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Traditional PM (PMP) vs Technical Lead/PM

by on September 16, 2011

I have seen many companies struggle with assigning the right Project Manager(s) (PM) to their projects to ensure the projects are completed successfully (on time, within budget, and of highest quality).   Stakeholders put a lot of trust and responsibility in these Project Managers to both manage the day-to-day aspect of the project as well as keep them informed of project status, issues, risks, etc.  What I have seen so many times when the wrong PM was on the project is that Senior IT management often have to step in and micro-manage the project to ensure it is delivered.  This is sometimes at the expense of budget as they are able to apply as whatever resource necessary to ensure project is delivered on time.

For this particular post, I am going to focus on two main types of Project Managers (1) Traditional PM (PMP) and (2) Technical Lead/PM.  Not all PM’s fall into this bucket as there are Business PM’s, Program Managers, etc but this is focused on more strategic IT projects.

First, let me start by stating what I mean when I say Traditional PM (PMP) and Technical Lead/PM.

  1. Traditional PM (PMP) – This is what most job and position descriptions are looking for.  Typically Project Management Professional (PMP) and sometimes ITIL certifications are required and this position usually reports through a PMO organization.  This person is mostly focused on project status, budget, project plans, and issue tracking.  This resource is typically a MS Project guru, expert in tools like PlanView, and strong knowledge of project methodologies.
  2. Technical Lead/PM – I would refer this position as the Key IT stakeholders right-hand person.  This is usually a very technical resource (sometimes being capable of currently being hands-on) and has strong communication, leadership, and organizational skills.  This resource has expertise in estimating projects, creating and managing project plans (typically MS Project or Spreadsheets), running technical meetings, providing architecture/technical direction, and communicating status and raising/resolving issues.

There are a lot of factors that go into staffing a project with PM(s).   Budget, size of project, regulatory/compliance requirements, type of project (i.e. Infrastucture, upgrades, business applications, etc), timelines, risk, resource skill set/experience, etc.

In many cases, you need both of these roles to have a successful implementation but that in itself does not guarantee success.  This requires a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities (i.e. Traditional PM delegating technical management tasks to Technical Lead/PM and Technical Lead/PM delegating overall management, schedule coordination, etc to Traditional PM).

However, all projects are not created equal and because of some of the above factors (type of project, resource skill set, timelines), it is not always feasible or even the ideal to have both of these roles.

For more IT strategic or architecturally critical projects, I have seen more success using the Technical Lead/PM as your key PM on the project.  Example of these projects are:  Infrastructure, Data Center Consolidation, Disaster Recovery, SOA Infrastructure/Initial Implementation, etc. 

For larger business strategic projects, multi-project, and/or multi-year projects this is typically managed by more of a partnership between Business, PMO, and IT leadership and PMs.  Example of these projects are:  Rolling out new business user applications, business compliance (HIPAA), etc.  These typically require more methodical project management and more attention following strict project methodology and change management processes.  Clear roles and responsibilities are critical.  Even for these larger projects, there may be times it is more effective to have your Technical Lead/PM take more ownership for key sub-projects or to help get a high-risk project back on track. 

In summary, there are a lot of factors that go into staffing your projects.  There is not a one size fit all and not all PM’s fit only in one of the other category.  I have seen Traditional PMs (PMP/ITIL certified) that have a strong technical understanding, have extensive experience with technical projects, and/or can effectively work well and delegate technical tasks to development leads as they manage the project.  I have also seen Technical leads/PM take more responsibilities and have expensive experience managing the entire project life cycle.  It is also critical to realize that all Technical Leads are not a good fit to be PM’s just as all PMP certified PM’s are not good fits to be the primary PM on some of your strategic projects.

What type of PM is right for you?  Please share your thoughts and experiences…


One Comment
  1. Hi,

    I would like to republish your article comparing a traditional Project Manager to technical lead Project Manager on PM Hut. I think PM Hut readers will appreciate it. Please either email me or contact me through the “Contact Us” form on the PM Hut website in case you’re OK with this.

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