Do You Know an Accidental Project Manager?

Barb works for a local financial services company. Her title is Manager, Operations and Support. I can tell you all about what she is but let’s focus on the critical thing she is NOT.   She is NOT a project manager.

But here is the problem: she manages maybe 2 or 3 projects a year and she is winging it.  She likes this part of the job, but it is here she feels most out of control.  It is here she feels most uncertain about the outcome.

This can often be the most stressful part of her job and no wonder: no training, no tools, no coaching.   Welcome to the world of the accidental project manager.

Barb is not alone. I estimate that there are 50-100 times as many accidental project managers in your organization as there are professional project managers (making a living at managing projects).

The strange thing is that when you offer help or a little training, they shy away. Why?  Because they are scarred – that is ‘damaged’ not scared as is frightened.  You see, many of us have tried and failed.  We used the wrong approach and left a poor sole behind who is confused, frustrated and, as I say, scarred.

What is the wrong approach to helping these folks?

  • mention the PMBok
  • introduce them to MSProject or a similar tool
  • use examples from your own project management world
  • mention quality control
  • ask them to attend a course longer then 1 day
  • have that course delivered by someone who usually teaches professional project managers

What is the right approach?

  • no PMBoK
  • give them 5-7 easy steps to follow
  • offer your support when they ask for it
  • offer a one-day course that is delivered by someone who gets it
  • don’t try to teach PM Fundamentals in a day – that’s not what this is
  • keep the course simple and fun

The accidental project manager really does want our help, but history suggests that most of the help they may have received to-date is not very helpful.

Put yourself in their shoes, understand what they really need to know and keep it simple.


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