ASP.NET Security Consultant

I'm an author, speaker, and generally a the-way-we've-always-done-it-sucks security guy who specializes in web technologies and ASP.NET.

I'm a bit of a health nut too, having lost 50 pounds in 2019 and 2020. Check out my blog for weight loss tips!

How to leverage a Project Administrator effectively

Published on: 2014-09-21

In my second post in my series about Leadership vs. Management relating to IT, I talked about how project managers need to anticipate problems, decide which issues are worth fixing, and remove obstacles for their teams. Most IT people have worked for a "project manager" who merely ran reports, scheduled meetings, and constantly asked people for their status. In that article, I talked about how this second type of project manager really should be called a project administrator. What I didn't talk about, though, was what do you do if you suspect that you have a project administrator instead of a project manager?

Determine if you have a good project administrator or a bad project manager

Merely noticing that the project manager does a bad job doesn't necessarily make them a good project administrator. Here are some differences between a good project administrator and a bad project manager:

 Good Project ManagerGood Project AdministratorBad Project Manager
Attention to DetailVery detail oriented, but pays special attention to the most important detailsVery detail oriented, but is unable to tell the difference between important and unimportant detailsNot detail oriented
InterviewingGreat at eliciting the details that are important for the successful completion of the projectGood at eliciting all of the details associated with a particular area or featureHas own agenda during interviews
Scheduling MeetingsSchedules meetings when they are needed, invites the right peopleSchedules meetings when asked, invites everyoneSchedules meetings when asked, invites the wrong people
Project PlanningUnderstands when extra time is needed and plans accordinglySchedules project plan according to timelines givenPlugs schedules into project management software and hopes for the best
Mitigating IssuesWorks with team to solve important issues, lets unimportant issues slideWorks with team to solve all issuesLets rest of team handle all issues 
Communicating IssuesRaises potential problems to the people most able to fix themRaises potential problems to everyone on the teamRaises issues to the people most likely to give pleasant answers

Identify your project leader

The most crippling problem that I see of projects led by project administrators is that the team lacks focus. When objectives are clear and the project is running smoothly, it is easy to feel like the leadership is adequate. But when the objectives become unclear or the project stops running smoothly, the team loses focus and several individuals attempt to step into the leadership void. To prevent this from happening, choose your leader before the project starts.

Decide if you need a manager

Do you need an explicit manager? Managers typically are tasked with ensuring that each person on the team is doing their job efficiently and to mitigate issues when they arise. If your team lead can serve this role, or if you are running an Agile project and the business stakeholder for your project can serve this role, then you may not need an explicit manager. When in doubt, don't include a manager in the project, and bring one in if it proves necessary.

Play to your administrator's strengths

Good project administrators are very detailed oriented, so give them responsibilities that play to their strengths. Most project administrators are great at scheduling meetings, providing regular status reports, etc. But most project administrators are also good at testing software, reviewing contracts, watching for missing details, etc. In general, look for detailed, repetitive, and straightforward tasks and your project administrator will shine.

Limit the information that the administrator receives

Because most project administrators don't have the hands-on experience necessary to know the difference between important details/problems and unimportant ones, try to limit the information that they receive. Generally I'm a fan of making all information available for everyone, but project administrators really should be on a "need-to-know" basis. Otherwise you risk having them overreact to an unimportant detail, which can distract the team from what is important.

Ensure that the roles are properly communicated

Finally, if you try to do all of this without the project administrator knowing, you will fail. Either the administrator will sense that their role is being diminished and they will force themselves in, or they will become confused and stop functioning altogether. Tell them what you are doing and why. Best case is that you have identified a training opportunity for a motivated employee. Worst case is that you can take some of the administrative tasks away from your business leaders and software architects and allow them to focus on the tasks that only they can do.

Other posts in this series

June: An introduction to Leadership vs. Management
July: Is a project manager the right person to put in charge of your software project?
August: How do you manage an Agile software project?
September: How to leverage a project administrator effectively
October: Getting programmers to see the value in management
November: The Peter Principle and software architects
December: Creating a leadership team to make your software project a success

This article was originally posted here and may have been edited for clarity.