Multiple Project Managers on one project
Are you going to have multiple project managers on the same project?
Or are you going to be the second project manager assigned to a project?
Unless you take care then it is easy to cause confusion with the project team and to interfere with the other project manager.
This article will show you 4 different ways that these arrangements can work and give you some actionable strategies to ensure you get off to the best start.
Why have two project managers on one project?
The simple reason is that there is too much to for one project manager to do.
There could be too many:
- people in the project team for one person to manage.
- different teams working on the project that each needs to be managed.
- parts to the project for one person to keep informed on.
Or, the project manager is struggling to complete their responsibilities due to:
- lack of experience.
- poor performer.
So by having multiple project managers by adding another project manager to the project then some of the burdens can be removed from the first project manager and given to the second.
Caution when assigning multiple project managers
The potential trouble with having two project managers is because it breaks a key principle of management known as Unity of Command. Rule #5 of Henri Fayol’s Principles of Management.
This principle states that:
Unity of command – Every employee should receive orders from only one superior or behalf of the superior.
As well as confusion for the project team then there is also the risk that:
- Friction between the two project managers if they think the other is interfering in their area of responsibility.
- Some responsibilities are missed because each of the project managers thought the other had taken responsibility for it.
- Stakeholders are confused as to who is managing the project and who they should speak to.
- Project team members become disengaged due to receiving the same instruction multiple times from different people.
You want to make sure you have the right strategies for avoiding all of these potential problems.
Let’s look at those before looking at the different arrangements for multiple project managers on one project.
Good Strategies for two project managers on one project
Strategy #1: Divide all responsibilities
Decide and agree on what parts of the part each project manager is responsible for.
If there are some items that need both project managers to be involved then make sure that one is appointed as having overall responsibility and ownership of it.
Double check that everything has been covered and that there isn’t a part of the project left out of anyone’s responsibility.
Write this down and tell the project team and the project stakeholders.
Strategy #2: Work together
They don’t need to be best friends but the project managers do need to be able to have open communication between them.
Projects can be very stressful exercises where tempers flare and people burn out.
Having a rapport between the project managers will help to alleviate these problems and to be there to back each other up when the time comes.
Whether through social outings or dedicated time at work for ‘non-shop talk’, then the project managers should take the time to get to know each other.
Sometimes members of the project team will come to one project manager with a question or request when it should be directed to the other project manager. Back each other up by making sure the team member is directed to the right person rather than getting involved in something which isn’t your responsibility.
Project managers can also offer to help each other with hard tasks or as a back up for any absence.
Strategy #3: One project, one team
Eliminate dual reporting so that each project team member only has one project manager to report to on the project.
Both project managers should report together since they are both jointly responsible for the project. One will be the main contact point for the project sponsor, however, the other needs to be available to talk to their part of the project and to take any questions about it.
Bonus Tip: Project Mentors
Instead of inserting another project manager into the project then consider whether it would be more worthwhile to use a senior project manager as a mentor instead.
This avoids the risk of having any problems from having multiple project managers working on the project at the same time.
This is especially an option when considering to add another project manager because the first may be lacking in experience.
As the mentoring activity can happen away from the project then it also provides protection of the project team being disturbed and distracted from completing their work.
The Four Ways
The way you split up the responsibilities for the project is by looking at the scope of the project and the expected outputs or deliverables.
There are four ways to combine these different splits.
1. Vendor Project Managers
This is where a project manager has another project manager deliver a part of the project for them.
This happens regularly in Information Technology as vendors create specific pieces of software for the overall project.
The vendor project manager is responsible for the work completed by the project team that belong to their organisation and will directly report to the first project manager. The first project manager is considered to have overall responsibility for the project and is the contact point for project stakeholders.
This arrangement also covers where both project managers are part of the same business but the second belongs to the business unit responsible for that piece of scope. For example Business and Technical Project Managers on IT projects.
2. The Project Rescue
This is where another project manager is assigned to manage a poor performing project manager rather than remove and replace them.
All communications and project management decisions now go through the new project manager. The incumbent project manager remains to keep the momentum on work already in progress and to take advantage of the knowledge they have built up so far.
3. Independent “Divide and Conquer”
Where a project can be split into separate pieces of work that can either be integrated late in the project lifecycle or delivered separately then each of those pieces of work can have their own project manager.
This is a good option if the amount of work required to manage one of those work streams is a full-time project manager job and/or has a high-risk profile.
This is the Independent Option above but is where the project cannot be split up into independent pieces of work.
The project managers will need to decide between them what they will manage and need to share responsibility for communicating to stakeholders, including the project team.
This option requires project managers that are comfortable to shift their focus at short notice from one part of a project to another. They also need to not be “precious” about what part of the project they are responsible for.
The advantage of this arrangement is that the project managers can support each other if one of them has a spike in workload. It also ensures that the project team always has someone available to raise items with.
Phil Jacklin, Chief Coach at OnTheSamePage, recently published an interesting post. It relates to this article as he is asking whether it would be valuable to have two rather than one project manager assigned to a project.
Phil’s article talks about the benefits of this approach. I think my option 4 above, “Collaboration”, has the potential to test this out.