Eight to Late

Sensemaking and Analytics for Organizations

Two project managers, one project

with 4 comments

Some projects are run by more than one project manager (PM).  The most common manifestation of this is on projects that have a clear distinction between business and technical responsibilities. In such cases it is  logical, not to mention efficient, to divide these responsibilities between two PMs –  one from the business and the other from the tech side. At first sight this arrangement appears to violate one of Henri Fayol’s principles of managementunity of command. Further,  with two people running the show, there’s an increased potential for confusion regarding roles and responsibilities. One is, therefore,  justified in thinking that two PMs on a project implies trouble (or should I say, double trouble?). However,  from experience I can say that such an arrangement works well, providing some simple and fairly obvious guidelines are followed. So, if you have the double-edged fortune of being one half of a project management team, here’s some unsolicited advice from someone who has been there:

  • Develop a good rapport with your counterpart: As I’ve written about elsewhere, communication is the basis of good project management. It is easier (and a lot more fun) to communicate with someone you like and get along with. Hence this is number one in my list: get to know your counterpart, socially if possible. Building a rapport (even better, a friendship) will help ease the inevitable tensions that crop up when the project is underway.
  • Divide all responsibilities: This is almost as important;  responsibilities must be completely partitioned between the two PMs. This means: 
    • all responsibilities are assigned to a PM  – i.e. no unassigned responsibilities and, 
    • no overlap – i.e.  each responsibility assigned to one PM only (never both!). 

    Note that this point addresses the apparent violation of principle of the unity of command

  • Help each other: Yes, despite what I’ve said in point two, you will occasionally need to help each other. This could, for instance, be by helping out with hard tasks or covering for your counterpart while she’s away. Remember, you never know when you’ll need help yourself. So, offer assistance, if only for selfish reasons!
  •  …but don’t tread on each other’s toes: After all is said and done, you and your counterpart are individuals. Respect that by not barging into each others territory. There’s a difference between offering help and interfering – though, some people seem to find it hard to make this distinction.  As an example,  don’t  offer unsolicited advice (unlike me!), unless you’re sure it will be taken in the right spirit. 
  • Make joint presentations at sponsor meetings: You and your counterpart are a  leadership team. Giving joint presentations to sponsors reinforces the notion that both of you are jointly responsible for the project.

Running a project with another person can be an enjoyable experience. Yes, each of you will have to adjust to the other’s management style and quirks. However, you’ll both find that this effort is repaid many times over through the support and assistance you receive from each other.

Written by K

March 17, 2008 at 5:23 am

Posted in Project Management

4 Responses

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  1. […] 16, 2008 A while ago I wrote a post entitled, Two project managers, one project, in which I offered some suggestions to those who share project management responsibilities with […]


  2. Smart tips.

    I reckon more projects should be run this way, although I also reckon putting a programme manager across the top is a better way of addressing the unity of command issue.

    Love your blog. Found it in a link at Herding Cats.



    craig brown

    July 25, 2008 at 10:55 pm

  3. Craig,

    Thank you for your comments and your interest in my blog.

    You’re absolutely right – programme management is the ideal way to address the unity of command issue. However, many organisations (especially smaller ones) lack the resources to put this in place.





    July 27, 2008 at 8:54 am

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