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Project Manager

Last edited: Aug 9, 2022 Published: Apr 16, 2020

A big project requires a lot of resources, tools and people to come together to reach a common goal. The person that brings it all together is the project manager.

Mixpanel Team

A Project Manager’s Primary Role

The primary role of a project manager (PM) is to keep projects on schedule and under budget. They oversee a project from start to finish. The success or failure of a project largely depends on the PM’s ability to analyze risks and opportunities, plan ahead and handle challenges along the way. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of pressure to deliver results when you take on the role of a project manager.

Dzone’s definition sums up the role of a project manager nicely. They define the role of a project manager as, “to achieve all of the project goals within the given constraints.”  

Project managers work within every industry. Having previous experience working within other job roles in an industry can make a PM better suited for the job since it requires a vast amount of knowledge and skills. A project manager is a conflict resolving, problem-solving, risk assessing professional that has to keep track of a lot of moving pieces. Coming into a project with industry experience helps to dramatically reduce the learning curve.

In terms of analytics, many organizations underutilize project managers and underrate what these individuals can bring to the table. A project manager’s role can include:

  • Researching data tools that can be leveraged
  • Deciding which data analysis techniques will be used to measure results
  • Finding analytical tools that can be used to track progress and make projections
  • Assembling a team of data analysts for the project
  • Working with data analysts to define workflow and goals

Of course, some projects are centered around analytics. Project management for analytics-based projects is its own specialty that requires a professional with a background in data. Often IT managers will take on the role of managing these types of projects.

Key Responsibilities of a Project Manager

The project manager plays a big role, and within that role, there are a number of responsibilities. Below is an overview of some of the key responsibilities and additional insight on how analytics factors into the process. 

Product Planning

Project managers do a lot of planning. They are a part of the team that first determines which product, service or marketing campaign should be developed. They’ll consider factors like market demand, the scope of the project, product differentiation and overhead costs. 

Risk assessment is another critical task that falls on the shoulders of a project manager during the planning phase. The risks involved will have a direct impact on success. The risks must be identified upfront so that they can be planned for in advance and hopefully circumvented. 

The project manager should also pinpoint the precise problems that the project will solve or address. Identifying the problems will inform the goals that are set and help data analysts measure results. Once the business problem is defined it can be translated into an analytics problem that can be answered using data.

Establishing Budgets and Schedules

Scheduling is a skill every good project manager possesses. Research during the project planning phase should give the project manager enough information to determine what tasks need to be completed, in what order and who will do them. How the work is scheduled is one of the biggest decisions a project manager will make.

Analytical factors that a PM will consider when scheduling include:

  • Defining the problem to be addressed
  • Finding the proper analytical tools and modeling techniques
  • Allocating the time needed to gather data
  • Allowing time for data preparation and exploration
  • Building statistical models 
  • Fixing data issues and anomalies
  • Iteration for building new models, modes of preparing data, etc. 

Experienced project managers understand that there has to be flexibility in the scheduling and timelines. No project is going to play out perfectly. There are just too many unknowns at the beginning of a project for that to happen. Rigidly following plans to a T could end up setting you back. 

For that reason, scheduling is something that a project manager has to revisit and reevaluate regularly. If changes need to be made it’s up to the PM to make sure everyone is kept up-to-date.

Before the work can begin, the project manager must also create a budget. This will typically necessitate working with individuals in the finance department as well as other managers to determine realistic costs for resources. Like the schedule, the budget will likely change as the project progresses. The goal is to keep costs in check and adhere to the budget as closely as possible.

Setting Goals for Delivery and Performance

The goals that are set have a huge impact on the project rollout, deliverables and analytics. For starters, how measurable are the goals and how will they be measured? Will there be enough data to generate accurate measurements and truly know if the project is successful?

Goals guide the project and serve as the benchmark of success. Project managers are responsible for setting goals that are specific, attainable and measurable without aiming so slow that efficiency and/or profitability are hindered. It’s a balancing act that is carefully managed throughout the project. 

Coordinating Workers

Managing people is one of the most complex responsibilities of a project manager. There are a lot of different personality types within a team and each person has their own work style. A project manager has to know each person well enough to understand their work habits and communication styles as well as how to coordinate the team so that the project flows smoothly. 

This means that the project manager needs to have a firm understanding of each person’s job role and what they are capable of contributing. They must understand when each worker will come into play and how their progress can affect the work of others. 

Project managers will need to work closely with data analysts during the project. It helps when the PM has a grasp of the analytics basics so that meetings to provide updates, feedback and knowledge are communicated clearly.

The PM also plays the role of middleman between analytics and other departments. This can come into play when data is gathered from a variety of sources that require assistance from others for account access and analysis. 

Create Progress Reports

Along the way, the project manager is continuously monitoring and documenting progress. They are tracking progress to ensure the project stays on schedule. They are looking for signs of bottlenecks or productivity issues that impact things down the line. 

Project managers are also keeping the entire team informed about how much progress has been made and whether everything is on-track for delivery deadlines. To aid in this effort, they create progress reports that highlight what has been completed, tasks that still need to be done and what stage the project is in. Progress reports provide a quick snapshot and allow PMs to track productivity at a high level. 

Final Thoughts

As we move further into the digital age the lines between project management and data analysis will continue to blur. Defining problems, designing products and measuring the success of the project may all rely on data that can be leveraged for future projects. Project managers can set themselves apart by gaining analytics experience that allows them to project, plan ahead and coordinate team members more effectively.

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