Project Management in Financial Services – Three Critical Roles

When we look at the discipline of Project Management within the financial services industry, it becomes very clear that those two words mean different things to different people in different organizations (at different times of day?).   Definitions of what is (and isn’t) Project Management are as many as the number of firms that practice them.   Still, upon careful examination, common themes become evident in the way many organizations look to implement and optimize a PM  approach that will “up the odds” of their project’s success.  Three of these common themes are Project Definition, Project Coordination/Administration, and Project Leadership.

As mentioned above, one of the roles of Project Management that is prevalent in the financial services industry is that of Project Definition. It is almost always up to the Project Manager to lead the organization in creating a framework around a project’s key deliverables and timeframes. However, the Project Manager is often called upon to define the very concept of Project Management for the organization. This is the case where a business or operational area is looking to execute a particular initiative and has little to no experience in any type of project work. The Project Manager here is called upon to assist the firm in understanding what a project is, how a person or team works on and delivers a project, and, most importantly, how a project differs from the day-to-day operations of their standard work. Once this is made clear, the Project Manager can then proceed to finalizing the approach, methodology, metrics, etc. that will be required to successfully deliver the project.  The definition of the overall boundaries, methods, metrics and deliverables of every project are a critical function of Project Manager in our industry.

Another key function of financial services Project Management is that of Project Coordination and/or Administration.  Although many of us do not like to admit it, I’m sure we’ve all worked for companies that see Project Management as an administrative function. All a Project Manager really does, they say, is set up meetings, update Issues lists, create Gantt charts, and draw Powerpoint slides.  And, in a lot of these firms, that is what Project Manager does.  The fact that Project Management has become this set of necessary but inconsequential tasks is, more often than not, due to the fact that Project Management is only being used because it is a requirement of the organization – a mandate from an audit function or organizational PMO or perhaps just a senior manager that has heard Project Management is the next “big thing”. For whatever reason, Project Management is being viewed as a way to administer the project, not lead it. Unfortunately, this approach becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy – Project Management is judged as being a purely administrative function because it is being used as one.

Project Leadership is also a common (and the most important) role played by Project Management in financial services, and one that probably best serves both the delivering organization as well as the stakeholders and sponsor.  In this evolution of Project Management, the Project Manager is viewed as the person responsible for delivering what was promised to the sponsor of the project. The Project Manager is the central contact point, responsible for not just completing documents and lists, but for creating and maintaining an organizational delivery mechanism that takes an idea and turns it into a physical reality. Project Management as a leadership function utilizes what is probably the most important skillset in a Project Manager – communication – and leverages that ability to motivate and manage team members and diverse stakeholders into agreeing upon project deliverables and timeframes, budgets and resources.  It’s been said that management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.  Often Project Managers are called upon to do both.

Once we begin to understand the roles currently being played by Project Management in our industry, we will not only improve our day-to-day success by remaining on the same page as our stakeholders in regards to their expectations, but also allow us to expand on these roles by building from a common foundation.  As the role of Project Management grows within our industry, so, too, will the opportunities for Project Managers.


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