The Pragmatic Project Manager

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The pragmatic project manager needs to balance formal process against conforming with the client’s wishes. There are situations where rigid obedience to project management process can yield poor results; either because of opposition or because the process may not be suited to the environment in which it is used.

Knowing when to bend to the customers

There are occasions when a customer may require a project manager to operate outside the normal process of project management.  The customer can often request that certain things be done in certain ways. There can be a fine line between getting the job done and pleasing the customer. Occasionally following customer requests can lead to doing a poor job with low achievement. But all project managers will encounter situations where opposing a customer is detrimental to successful results. Once you’re in a situation where you have to oppose your client’s wishes and there is going to be disagreement and conflict, it can be an easier course of action to bend to the customers will, and deliver as instructed.  Judgement is required to determine if the impact on the project is bigger by fighting with a customer or just to go along with instructions.


In situations where you have to work complete a letter of what the client is asking for it is an opportunity to explore how that may be modified.  Over time there may be better ways of working or better process introduced. As a project manager, you cannot always hope to introduce process improvement to the way projects are delivered in an organisation.  But seeking to tune the way projects are done to improve the outcome is a good aim, so you should continue to try and work towards better ways of working when that is possible.

When to impose process against customer’s will

There are instances whereby customers request it’s clearly going to detriment project results to such an extent that they are untenable. In this instance, project managers have little choice but to challenge the customer and modify the approach. The challenge can result in conflict. Where project managers are forced into this situation, the customer’s view should be challenged constructively and appropriately. It may be that the ideal process cannot be adopted, and some modification can be applied. Project managers that have a higher emotional intelligence are able to more diplomatically resolve these situations. Taking on clients directly may not be the best course of action, winning over the client’s peers or others in the wider team or Department may help you go forward.


Handling conflicts like this successfully you need to have a good understanding of your stakeholders.  The more you understand the pressures, issues and daily demands, the better you are armed to assistant the situation and reach an acceptable solution.




The pragmatic project manager will always flex and adjust to the situation they find themselves in. The judgement needed to make the right decision at the right time for each client only comes with practice.  It is something that is very difficult to learn in a classroom or taught in a course.  The skill of the pragmatic project manager comes from practising project management with different teams, different clients and different opportunities.