Give the Project Manager Authority to be Successful

This article was inspired after meeting a couple of people in situations where they did not have the necessary delegated authority to keep a project moving along, but were being blamed for all the associated delays and issues.

The first was meeting a project manager for a large international IT company several years ago at a conference, where she depressingly told the story that she had no delegated authority at all, and every single change request, had to go to the Change Control Board, which would meet only on Mondays. So, a normal week would be that she would leave the Change Control Board meeting with a list of approved and declined changes, and the team would begin work on any amendments. Then throughout the week a change request would come in and the team would essentially grind to a halt and have to wait to the following Monday for the Change Control Board to consider the changes.

The second situation was working with a client recently and during the maturity assessment we discovered that the project managers had no delegated authority at all. I made the recommendation to the client that the project managers should be given sufficient delegated authority to deal with minor changes and was met with a few conflicting answers about why this wasn’t possible. When I finally pressed them, they revealed that it was because they didn’t trust their project managers. I then pointed to their intranet site, which clearly stated on the first page that their people were the greatest asset and that they trusted and respected them. I am still not sure this contradiction has been resolved. What I do know is that project managers were incredibly unhappy with the situation and believed they would be performed better with an appropriate amount of delegated authority,

These are two extreme examples of what is, in fact, quite a common problem in the world of project management. The problem is the project managers who are experienced, and professional are not being given sufficient delegated authority to receive, consider, and make decisions on relatively minor change requests, or given the authority to get team members when they want them. At best this is inefficient, at worst it could contribute to project failure.

A project manager should have delegated authority that is equivalent to their levels of experience, competency, and professionalism. This means a junior project manager would have minor levels of delegated authority and have the ability to handle very small change requests but probably still have to request resources from functional managers for example. They should always have direct access to the decision makers needed to handle large change requests so that they are not obliged to wait for regular steering committee or governance groups or change control board meetings.

At the other end of the spectrum, a senior, experienced, competent, and professional project manager should have large amounts of delegated authority, and the ability to receive and consider significant change requests, and to get team members when they need them. They should be trusted to make these decisions and report the outcomes of these decisions to team members, the sponsor, members of the steering groups, and other stakeholders.

Too many people get caught up in the idea of the governance group performing a change control function when they’re supposed to be about governance not management nor control. Even if you have separate Change Control Board that is just there to consider change requests it shouldn’t be responsible for all change requests – that’s just an inefficient use of their time, and a drag on the project.

So, make sure you have a clearly defined and documented change control process that includes agreed tolerances and contingencies, and clear and appropriate descriptions of delegated authority to project managers based on their experience and competence levels.

And if you are reading this article thinking that you can’t give any more delegated authority to your project managers because you don’t trust them then you have an issue of an altogether different type, and it is not to do with the project managers.

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