All project managers see their job differently. Some are very lofty in describing their role; others seem lost still trying to discover it. There is talk of making customers happy, working with users, managing risk, and many other activities. But, if you ask a director of projects managers, “what is the role of a project manager?” they are very clear: plan the project, put a stick in the ground, and meet it.

A formal definition of projects management is predicting, with as much certainty as is possible or required, the project’s scope, time, and cost at completion, and then embracing reality and influencing activities to meet these predictions.

It is a very scary thing for project managers to predict where a project will end up because it holds them accountable, but it is imperative. If there isn’t an end point for the project manager to drive towards there won’t be any management or direction of the project, there is only drifting. Who wants a project drifter leading their project?

There is no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to project management. Every project has different constraints, requiring different levels of certainty when it comes to predicting and meeting scope, time, and cost. This is important because the amount of effort expended managing a project is directly related to the amount of certainty obtained. The relationship between certainty and effort is known as project management ROI. With just a little effort, a fair amount of certainty can be achieved. The more effort you apply, the more certainty you obtain. Today’s project managers often identify how much time they have available to manage a project and let the certainty be determined as a result. This tends to result in poor project results and dissatisfaction across the board. In fact, for this approach, the average cost overrun is 189%, time overrun is 222%, and scope reduction is 61%. While these results may be reasonable for some low priority projects, higher priority projects require more certainty.

The proper way to approach a project is to first identify the level of certainty required and then let the amount of effort be determined as a result. This approach will drive who is selected to manage the project, the expectations set for them, and whether they manage it fulltime or part time. It also drives the amount of process and rigger the project manager follows.

Know the importance of your project, determine the certainty needed, get the right Project Manager, have them predict the end result, and expend the required effort to bring it to a reality. That’s the pathway to project success.