Are Project Managers Overrated?

Not everyone believes in project managers. Some common complaints include:

  • They focus on planning and processes, and in the end, don’t produce anything of value.
  • They speak using business and project management double-talk, and produce only papers, charts,
    graphs, analysis, etc, to justify why no actual product was going into production.
  • They have a lack of real experience in the subject area, and they do not know how to actually build a final deliverable.

Is it that bad?

It is difficult to accept the notion that the typical project manager does not have a clue about what he is doing, and in fact cause more harm than benefit. And yet, this is the perspective taken by some.

There are many fine and capable project managers. In fact, most could likely be placed in this category. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone is competent, or that even the capable ones are perfect. That’s one reason (but not the only reason) why there are still projects today that fail, or suffer significant cost and schedule overruns. Being a successful project manager in the past should provide confidence that you will be successful in the future. However, there are no guarantees. Sometimes the manager has been successful in the past, but just does not have enough experience in a particular area to manage a project in that area well.

Some perspective on project management

  • There is no guarantee that every project will be successful. However, the vast majority of research and information on the subject shows that major work initiatives should be defined, planned and organized as a project. While many cases exist that show successful outcomes based solely on the skills and talents of the project team, the evidence also shows that these instances are in the minority.
  • Project managers need to focus on results, not processes. However the processes provide the framework to produce the results. Projects that have no processes or poor processes are certainly not going to be successful.
  • There are good people who have skills or who even specialize in project management. If they apply their skills correctly, the project has a much better chance of being successful than ones that do not apply project management processes.
  • Some people believe that a project manager must have expertise in the subject matter of the project to be successful. Others believe that a good project manager can be successful on any type of project, regardless of whether they have any subject-matter experience. Our point of view is that subject matter experience is very helpful, but not absolutely vital. It is better to have a skilled project manager with no subject matter experience than a subject matter expert without project management experience.
  • The project management processes used on a project must be scaled based on the size and complexity of the work itself. If there are too many cumbersome processes in place for a small project, the work will take longer than needed and everyone will be frustrated. Not enough processes for a large project also limits your chance of being successful. However, don’t ever find yourself in a position of using this as your excuse.
  • Fundamentally, the end deliverables are the reason that the project exists. If you have the best project management processes in place, but you are not delivering your base products, you are not going to be successful.


The vast amount of study over the past years has shown that project managers do provide value on a project. So, from that perspective I would say that they are not overrated. However, all project managers should make sure they are delivering value, not just executing processes. On the other hand, for those that believe project managers are God’s gift to projects, it should be time to reflect on the fact that most of your team members don’t feel the same way. If the pedestal is too high, perhaps it should be knocked down a little – maybe to the same level as the rest of the team.

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