I'm a paranoid bulldog and proud of it... "Visuals" of the PM Role

by Cinda Voegtli, ProjectConnections

I just got off the phone with a PM whose world shifted dramatically within one hour yesterday afternoon. His team is about to ship a system to a customer beta test. The beta test setup was a dream come true for them—a site close by, one shift of operation using the machine for production, all night to look at issues and run other tests outside the line; a friendly customer... or so it was... Yesterday he found out instead that: the system will be in 24-hour operation in production; there's new top management since the beta was agreed to, with a different set of priorities; business is mandating hyper-aggressive production quotas. The Machine CANNOT Go Down... Yaaaaah!

This is when I morphed into "Paranoid Bulldog PM." My mind darted across all the potential issues and options: what could go wrong? How to manage the risks? How many people will need to be on call in the middle of the night if any problems arise (because something will obviously break at 2 a.m.)? How to "wake up" the executives who said "Yes" to this change—they don't have much choice, I know, but they need to at least experience a healthy dose of concern so that they're primed to take proactive risk management action. We ran through the items together and got armed for our first aggressive action to deal with the new beta situation. We'll keep scanning for things we haven't thought of. We won't let go until the risks are wrestled to the ground. We will make this beta successful! We are the proud Paranoid Bulldog PMs!

But seriously: It occurred to me lately that describing the PM role with mental pictures like this is a useful tactic. It can help new PMs "get" what is needed in terms of energy, attention, and taking responsibility. It can help team members get why we're acting this way—and smile a bit too at the label. So, lately, "Paranoid Bulldog PM" does it for me.

Here are a couple of other characterizations:

From a methodology called QRPD (Quality Rapid Product Development) comes this characterization of a project manager as an "Obsessed Leader" – and what that looks like:

  • Obsessed: On a mission. Fearless, firm, uncompromising at times. Determined, persistent, tenacious, persevering.

    What it looks like: You continually accept "buck stops here" responsibility. You handle the problems rather than building an excuse list. Observers know what you are working on—you are seen as an advocate for the project and the team, and the organization empowers you to act in that role.

  • Leader: Customer-level vision and understanding of the project's goal, grasp of the project's big picture. Motivator, dynamic as needed. Performance-oriented and pragmatic. Confident. The project "adult."

    What it looks like: When you walk around, you personify the project. You stand in the front of the room and remind the team about the whats and whys—what the goals are and why we are doing them. You remind individuals that they are part of a team and what their roles and responsibilities are. You have the team agree to a doable project. You believe in the team and make sure they know it; you continue to reassure them that they can do it; you pat people on the back. You turn issues into actionable problems. You have an eagle eye on the look-out to ensure results vs. just effort. Everyone gets to act like a prima donna except you.

And finally, from a colleague of mine who is Director of Project Management at a medical devices firm: "Our PMs are like general managers. They are the leader of the cross-functional team and need to be able to work well with all the team members, understand what they have to accomplish within their function, and understand how to get things done across those diverse groups. A "general manager" PM is able to successfully guide the team through the fuzzy front end of requirements negotiation; through technical development work in the middle; and through seamlessly introducing products to manufacturing and customers at the back end. General manager PMs are worth their weight in gold."

General Manager—this conjures for me the picture of a highly-competent, respected executive managing the project for the good of the business. It gives me the sense of the guidance I have to bring to the project, stature I need to strive for with team members, and the way I should comport myself. (Have you ever seen a highly successful GM who spent too much time mired in details, showed his/her stress excessively, acted like a victim if things got tough, etc? Hmmmm.)

So there you go: some interesting mental pictures of our PM role that can provide insight for our own development as well as ways to express the gestalt of the role to new PMs.

If you have some interesting visuals of your own, please let me know at

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