I work in a software development environment. Recently I sat in a meeting that included software developers, testers, project managers, designers, and people in miscellaneous other roles. The meeting was a general get-together with no strict agenda. As the conversation meandered about, several of the project managers in the room said things roughly along the lines of, “We feel that project managers are not appreciated enough.”
This surprised and intrigued me so I decided to see what information I could find about this lack-of-respect for PMs notion. I didn’t find any solid data, as in formal research or survey results, but there was a surprising consensus among the Web sites I found — it appears that, in fact, project managers do get very little respect in a technical environment.
Here are eight opinions I found repeated in various forms on the Internet, over and over and over.
1. Project managers are generally perceived as being in their role primarily because they don’t have the required technical skills to do development and similar activities.
2. Project managers do not create software systems and are therefore often seen somewhat as sycophants who ride along on the ability of others.
3. Project managers tend to vastly overstate the importance of the project-peripheral artifacts they produce (schedules, endless e-mail communications, and so on).
4. Project managers are seen as having no unique skills; because most of project management consists of communication and organization activities, there’s a strong perception that project management is just common sense. So project managers are easily replaceable.
5. In a technical environment, project managers constantly ask, “give me more respect” rather than actively engaging in activities (such as learning more about programming languages and technologies) that would actually generate more respect from their colleagues.
6. Project managers aren’t entirely necessary. For example, in a startup company you can live without an extra project manager but you can’t live without developers. Put another way, in a pinch, developers can act as project managers but project managers can’t do development.
7. Technically skilled employees, especially developers, are constant, active learners. But project managers’ skillsets are essentially static. Therefore there’s little difference between a PM two years out of school and one with ten years of experience.
8. Because women are over-represented in project management, there’s a belief that most are hired to fill HR gender quota goals rather than on the basis of ability.
Well, like anything, the extent to which these stereotypes about project managers are true or not really depends on a given scenario. But from a project manager’s point of view, the key problem is that these stereotypical opinions, true or not, appear to be widely and strongly held (at least according to a search of comments on the Internet).