Good project managers are worth their weight in gold

By JJ Rosen December 21, 2022
Good project managers are worth their weight in gold

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

Years ago, we decided it was time to remodel our kitchen.

We had what I called the 1970s “Brady Bunch” style kitchen that featured a mixture of faint yellow linoleum floors, puke green laminate countertops, and knotty pine brown cabinets.   We even had some cool flowery wallpaper and a fern—I loved it.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that we finally realized that the ’70s style was no longer all that popular, and it was time to make a change.

We hired a very talented and honest carpenter named Gary to guide us from our ’70s décor and appliances into more modern times.  He presented us with a reasonable estimate and assured us that in three weeks’ time we would be enjoying a life of new hardwood floors, granite counter tops, an ultramodern fridge, and custom cabinets.

Well, as you may have guessed if you’ve ever remodeled your own kitchen—things didn’t go exactly as planned.

Gary did a great job on the work itself. The work he did was precise and beautiful.

But, instead of three weeks it took about three months.  And in the end, final cost was about double the estimate.  There were days at a time when Gary got delayed working on our project because he had other clients he was juggling.  The countertops came in late because of a supply issue with the vendor.  And, we ran into some issues with some old water damage to the floor that we only found out about midway through the project.

I was anxious for Gary to get it done and the budget overage was stressful.  But I knew my worries were just first-world problems and took it in stride, grateful to have a cool new room.  In the end, the kitchen was great, it just cost twice as much and took four times longer than we expected.

We’ve all had experiences like this—projects that went off the rails somewhere along the line.  Whether it’s budget, deadlines, features, or all three, complex jobs are hard to manage.

Watching Gary, who knew how to build complex things, struggle with project management wasn’t unfamiliar to me.

In my world of custom software development and IT services, missed deadlines and budgets are notoriously common.  Just like remodeling a kitchen, managing a tech project is complex.  In fact, in our technology services business, in many ways managing a technical project is often more complex than the tech itself.

Enter one of the most valuable yet misunderstood roles in all of business—the project manager.

In the old days, a project manager was simply someone with good organizational skills. But early in my career, I realized it’s much more. Project management, whether in the tech world or any other business endeavor, is half art and half science because it involves managing both people and deliverables in tandem.

On the people side, a skilled project manager must manage both the team doing the work and the client’s expectations.  They are charged with managing project scope, deadlines, budgets, and dependencies.  And they must always be one step ahead, identifying and mitigating any risks to a successful project outcome.

On the deliverable side, project managers have to know what is considered “done.”  They must coordinate timing and contingencies for bugs and mistakes.  They must ensure that the final product meets customers’ expectations.

So, project management is not easy, and often takes years of study and experience to become good at it.

Gary, with all his talent as a carpenter, ended up being the catalyst for me to commit to project management as a critical component of our business.  Right up there with sales, marketing, accounting, and HR, project management can make or break an entire company.

Great project managers are hard to come by.  But when you find one, they are worth their weight in gold.

Despite the struggles we had getting our kitchen completed, over 20 years later I am happy we did it.  Not only did I get an updated kitchen, but I learned an important business lesson that helped our company improve.  I know that if the décor of the ’70s ever comes back in style, between the skills of someone like Gary and the experience of a great project manager, I will be ready.


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