7 Reasons Why Your Project Will Fail Without a Project Manager

Mad Men Season 5

How did the real Mad Men get anything done?

Imagine the following scenario. You’ve got a team of highly skilled professionals who are responsible and competent, and have a great work ethic and self-discipline. They know exactly what needs to be done and by when. They communicate well. They don’t have conflicting agendas, and they are able to keep their egos in check at all times. Ultimately, they are driven by a single goal: the project’s success.

Sounds like a perfect world. But even if this were somehow possible, I would bet my money that this team would fail without a Project Manager (PM).

You might protest, going on the example of the popular TV series Mad Men, depicting Creatives, Accounts, Media and Office Manager, but not a single PM or a Producer. How did the real Mad Men get anything done? More importantly, why can’t we get away without having PMs today?

Here are 7 reasons why your project will fail without a good Project Manager.

Reason #1: Complexity & Narrow Specialization

The world used to be much simpler before the Internet. Now people have exceedingly narrow areas of specialization, each evolving at lightning speed, making it challenging for most of us to stay up-to-date, let alone broaden our skillset laterally. It’s like every subject matter expert is immersed in his or her own vision of the world and speaks his or her own language.

A good PM translates from “developese” to “accountean” and makes sure that people actually understand each other.  In other words, PMs facilitate communication so that when team members from different departments agree on something, it is actually the same thing in everyone’s mind that has been agreed upon.

Reason #2: Conflicting [Personal] Agendas

People have different motivations and measures of success. For example, Creatives rarely concern themselves with such trivialities as budget and timing. They’re after a BIG IDEA that will move the public and be remembered, and maybe win an award or two. They get bummed out when reminded of clients’ expectations, based on promises the Account people made. Equally frustrating for them are technology constraints that may render the execution of said idea impractical. A good PM inspires the team to maintain focus on the common goal, achieving maximum greatness within hard constraints.

Reason #3: Big picture, tiny details

Modern business problems tend to be driven by simple goals (build awareness, grow sales) and complex solutions that require several diverse elements working together in perfect synergy. This is not a trivial feat. It is one that calls upon many different experts to contribute their wisdom and magic at different times during the project. Good PMs understand all the pieces of the puzzle and make sure they fit nicely together. They have the ability to maintain a laser-sharp focus on the details without losing the big picture.

Reason #4: Expectations Management

Clients want the best value for their buck. Since they’re paying the bills, they demand more, faster, bigger. Sometimes they ask for stuff they imagine will be good without realizing the consequences of the ask, which in reality may be very bad. On the flip side, out of perfectly good intentions, agency staff tend to underestimate the scope of the project and over-promise. This results in bad surprises. PMs protect clients from their own frivolity and protect the agency from misguided intentions. Under-promise and over-deliver. Now, that will be a pleasant surprise for once.

Reason #5: [Some] People are moody politicians

Some people have big egos with no skills to back up this self-delusion. Agencies are notorious for politics that result from having people who want to play the system. A PM has an acute perception of personal dynamics and subtle undertones of people’s communication, and the ability to read between the lines and maneuver carefully to lead the team to a desired outcome. A good PM does not get personally involved in sticky neurotic mud, but stays clear and calm, guiding the project through emotional minefields to where it needs to go without blowing up.

Reason #6: Failure and blame game

When something goes wrong, it often results in pointing fingers and assigning the blame. If third parties are involved, they often become  scapegoats.The web service is not delivering the data in the format agreed on. The images from the photo studio don’t have clipping paths. The reasons for shifting the blame to someone else could be endless. A good PM understands everyone’s roles and challenges. He or she makes sure communication is clear and complete , and deadlines and deliverables are described in sufficient detail and agreed upon. A PM then manages the process of getting things done while ironing out the inevitable wrinkles, without ever falling into the blame game.

Reason #7: Assumptions

People make them without fail. For example, you’d think various people on a client’s team know what each team member is doing, right? Wrong. You’d be surprised how often people don’t even realize the decisions they’re making on a daily basis affect others in significant ways. They don’t think to communicate. Problems inevitably come up, usually too late in the game, inflicting stress on many people. A PM needs to have an eagle eye for assumptions, especially when something seems so obvious that no one else realizes that it can actually be dead wrong.


Hats off to the Mad Men of the past for getting things done and having a good time to boot. Granted, they had it a little easier. They had fewer marketing channels to produce for, simpler organizational structures, larger budgets and less competition.

The ad industry’s days of glory and glamour are a thing of the past. We can reminisce by replaying 7 seasons of the beautifully produced Mad Men series. But when we go back to our desks, we’d better have good Project Managers on staff to keep it all together and get things done consistently well, with no surprises.

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