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After two years on a project I finally worked face-to-face with the Project Manager yesterday. The project we work on has one major deliverable - a web site. The project team has roughly 20 people working on it.

It came as a surprise to me to find out that the PM had never looked at the website before.

I can see this in a couple of different lights. On one hand, the PM's expertise is in managing the team and the resources, why should they care what the product looks like? On the other hand, a client is ponying up millions for the site and the support services, and you might expect a little more knowledge on the part of the PM regarding the deliverable.

Should I be concerned by this? Does such a lack of knowledge cause problems? Or can the PM act optimally without knowledge of the deliverable?

  • That should concern the boss of the project manager and the sponsor of the project (if the project under-performs. How/why does that concern you, a member of the team? – yegor256 Apr 26 '11 at 17:04
  • "How/why does that concern you, a member of the team?" See answers below. – gef05 Apr 27 '11 at 13:16
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It depends on how the project is organized on your side.

From a project management perspective we can point 3 areas which are, or can be, interesting:

  • Organizational. This is all about organizing the team and the work to be done. Basically if the project is staffed properly, everyone knows what to do and things go according to the plan (which also means there is the plan) PM did a good job. This is something vast majority of PMs do.

  • Business. This is all about knowing business background for the project. Basically when you're building something for the client you need someone who is a partner for discussions about business. In your case it can hardly be done at all without knowing what the product (website) does.

  • Technical. This is all about knowing general system architecture, along with all integration stuff, etc. You need someone who understands that and can discuss with the client all the details when needed. Depending on a client required knowledge in this area can be very small, e.g. when I want you to build my company's website, or very big, e.g. when I want you to integrate your project into my telecommunication infrastructure which is always a mess.

In big projects sometimes there's clear distinction between business, technical and organizational roles. If the sole PM responsibility is to cover organizational stuff and you have other project team members who cover business and technical roles then I see no problems. However if you expect your PM to be competent in at least one of other two roles, not knowing the product at all is surprising. I'd do that just out of curiosity.

Also: think more about roles in the project and not about titles. It isn't always PM who does project management work.

  • Nice clear delineation of the three areas, pawel. Unfortunately, it makes me more concerned about the situation as on this project the PM is most definitely presented to team members, stakeholders, partners, and clients, as having competency in all three areas. (Mostly org and business, but a small amount of technical knowledge.) – gef05 Apr 14 '11 at 18:11
  • Well, it seems someone takes care for the situations when PM's knowledge is falling short, isn't it? You can look at the situation from a couple of perspectives: in the client's eyes everyone looks OK, hence the stream of money, but then you have your organization's perspective. If it looks like you describe it may be worth discussing what exactly is, or should be, PM's role in your company. And then trying to come closer to the model with your project team and PM. – Pawel Brodzinski Apr 14 '11 at 19:51
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The simple answer would be - if it works for you it is OK.

I don't like to work that way. In fact this is one of my major objection against PM's I'm working with. They don't know the project neither from the business side nor from the product side. PM should know the business domain his working with and should be a partner for the client in discussions about the product.

When we talk about the product itself (Web site in your case): How can the PM understand bugs, misconceptions, troubles the users are falling into while using the product if he has never seen it? I believe that PM should be able to explain how to use the product, how to get something done click-by-clik.

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Holy Moly! -yes, I'd be concerned.

Either you are doing a GREAT job delivering value, interfacing with the client and doing the PM's job for them. Or, the PM is not incented to care a whole lot about the project. Perhaps they are too glued to their GANTT chart to look at the deliverable.

It is part of the PM's job to check against requirements and, in a larger sense, be an impartial voice for different solutions on meeting those requirements.

Yes, be concerned. Be very concerned.

  • A colleague made the comment, "The PM is focused on PM deliverables rather than project deliverables." (There are a host of problems identified by that simple statement, and I believe the colleague is correct.) I think your comments are trending down a similar path, in part. Thanks. – gef05 Apr 14 '11 at 21:43
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    I do not agree with the answer, the PM jobs is to plan and execute the product deliverable verification to the correct persons, check that deliverable matches the define acceptance. The PM himself, is a PROJECT Manager, not PRODUCT Manager. The PM can manage any kind of project like software, ship construction, spacial projects, etc. – Arturo Caballero Apr 14 '11 at 21:53
  • +1 for too glued to the gantt chart. Stupid gantt charts... – Andrew Clear Sep 6 '12 at 1:17
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The PM should be responsible for delivering the benefits, so I wonder how he can understand the benefits without knowing at least something of the deliverables, and how can he understand the deliverables if he has not looked at the website?

This situation would worry me a great deal. I know that some PMs (myself included) have a tendency to get too far into the detail, but some awareness of the detail is, in my opinion, essential to allow constructive discussion about what has been achieved, what remains to be done, and what will be the impact of any changes to scope.

Unless the PM has delegated all customer contact to someone else, I cannot understand how this situation is tenable, and echoing Pawel Brodzinski's answer, I wonder who really is the PM on this project. It certainly doesn't sound as though it is the person who has that job title.

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Absolutely!

The PM is ultimately responsible for the end result. A PM that's not regularly walking around and talking to his team or reviewing the progress and product simply isn't doing his job.

And the scary part is, that's usually the PM that will throw you under the bus when the client is unhappy and say "I didn't tell them to do that."

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Yes, I would be concerned. If the PM is not familiar with the primary deliverable, they have most likely been hiding behind excel spreadsheets, project plans and email. It sounds to me like he or she is acting as a project administrator and not a true project manager.

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