Output, not process

Nice post from Scott Berkun about misunderstanding the project manager role, both by outsiders and some PMs:

Our culture does not think of movie directors, executive chefs, astronauts, brain surgeons, or rock stars as project managers, despite the fact that much of what these cool, high profile occupations do is manage projects. The difference is these individuals would never describe themselves primarily as project managers. They’d describe themselves as directors, architects or rock stars first, and as a projects manager or team leaders second. They’re are committed first to the output, not the process. And the perspective many PMs have is the opposite: they are committed first to the process, and their status in the process, not the output.

I don’t know about rock stars (maybe rock stars’ managers?), but the more I learn about film, movie directors seem a very good comparison.


4 thoughts on “Output, not process

  1. Hey – thx for the link.

    Re: rock stars. Think about it this way. To get 4 people with instruments, gear, drug addictions and what have you on stage at the same time is nothing but pure project management. Between schedules, plans, budgets, politics over creative control, it’s all the same kinds of issues whether it’s a garage band or U2. So I’d argue just about any activity involving one or more people where there is a performance of some kind, or a finished product, depends on someones ability to project manage.

  2. Thanks for commenting!

    Thinking of managing rock stars, I get an image of Spinal Tap’s manager running the show with his Cricket bat :)

    I’ve been watching BBC’s Seven Ages of Rock documentary series recently and it seems like his character and daily challenges are quite similar to real band managers lives. There are a lot of similarities to a PM: he’s getting the talented people to collaborate and focus, trying to shelter provide them with their needs as best as he can. Of course, it’s mostly a bit more tame in software.

    (Funny that many job ads for coders now seek “Ruby Rock Star” etc…)

  3. Well, in the movie industry, the greatest movie directors have always been committed to output, and many of them had little regards for the process. They all had producers (or executive producers) to worry about the process and about actually *getting to a point* where you have output.

    If anything I would compare a project manager to the film’s executive producer, and the director, well.. maybe he’s the chief software architect, lead developer, product manager – sometimes even the QA engineer.

    I think it’s also the same for rock starts – the greatest ones always had good managers behind them.

  4. Welcome Shahar!

    Just to clarify – I refer (and I think so does the original article) to project/product manager as the same thing. Even though these are different roles in theory, in reality they’re often performed by the same person (perhaps sharing some of the duties with the CTO/lead developer etc).

    Movie directors are definitely allowed, or even expected, to be more “artistic” then software PMs, but I think this is more of a superficial difference – like the rock managers get to sort things out with cricket bats (I guess many PMs have moments they wouldn’t mind having one either)

    But the main role, I think, of a director or PM is similar: bringing an idea to reality. This means having some sort of vision of what you want to achieve (“vision” because it’s not really possible to completely define it in writing, no matter how detailed your script or spec) and shepherding it through a long process where it collides with reality – features/images that cannot be created, different interpretations by actors/coders, business considerations and daily obstacles of various degrees.

    But I have to admit I never directed any film, so I may well be way off :)


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