Dear PM Advisor. June 18, 2012

Dear PM Advisor-

I am a new project manager in a company, however once started, it seems more like a Program Manager role, and the role they call Coordinators are in truth, Project Managers, who occasionally coordinate on projects. Could you speak to the roles and communication protocols that exist in best practice between Program Managers, Project Managers and Coordinators? A lot or confusion exists over the interplay between coordinators and project managers. Can you help with this?" 

'Puzzled in Portland' 

Dear Puzzled,

Every company does things differently, that's why there is an organization called the Project Management Institute who has set itself the goal of standardizing terminology across the Project Mangement Spectrum. They have gone so far as making their book, 'Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge' (PMBOK) an ANSI standard.

We can look here for the definitions and find the following:

  • Program Manager: No definition
  • Project Manager: The person assigned by the performing organization to achieve the project objectives
  • Project Coordinator: No definition

Not much help is it? While you may be a voice crying out in the wilderness, try to get your organization to simplify the three roles to the following job descriptions:

  • Program Manager: Manages Programs which are made up of multiple linked projects
  • Project Manager: Manages one or more projects
  • Project Coordinator: Assists Project Managers in the administration of projects.

So the coordinator may update Gantt charts, gather status, write status reports, meeeting minutes and set agendas. The Project Manager is responsible for the success of a Project, often using the assistance of a Project Coordinator. The Program Manager is responsible for the success of a Program, using many Project Managers to aid in this effort.

Think of the three roles like a functional organization. The Program Manager is the Director, responsible for managing many different managers and lots of related projects and ongoing operations while completing large business objectives. His communications with the project managers may be once or twice a month. The Project Manager is like a manager in the organization, managing one to four projects. She communicates with her team multiple times a day to keep the projects on track. The Project Coordinator is like the manager's administrative assistant, doing all the routine work, uncovering the problems while the Project Manager solves the big problems, removes the obstacles to the team's success. Communication is several times a day.

Communication moves up and down through these three roles in a functional manner also. The Coordinator uncovers a problem and tells the Project Manager. She tries to resolve the problem and, if it affects the overall project timeline or budget, lets the Program Manager know in case it affects the program.

The Program Manager realizes that this delay will cause a dependent project to finish ahead of the parent project so he asks another Project Manager to slow down their schedule. This Project Manager tells his team to slow down and his Coordinator adjusts the Gantt chart accordingly.

Does that help?

PM Advisor

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