The Project Manager is your team-mate not your enemy

One of my favourite Americanisms is “where the rubber meets the road” and this is just as true for architecture as it is for anything else. Real architecture happens “where the rubber meets the road”. This is assuming, of course, that you are making sure that the architecture team is involved all the way through to delivery – which I recommend, but is the subject of another post.

Our challenge, as architects, is that the “rubber” is normally attached to a 10-ton lorry, speeding down the highway, that must be at a particular place, by a particular point in time, having only spent a limited budget getting there, with “project” emblazoned on the side.

When the crunch comes – as it does for all projects – the decision is which to trade off against each other? Quality of solution, cost of solution or delivery date of solution? Pick two. The two key people who will influence this trade-off are the project sponsor and the project manager (PM)… and, of course, you. But, in this post I’m going to pick up you and your relationship with your project manager.

But before I go on, let me just say one thing. The project manager is the guy who turns your architecture model into reality. Without them, your architectures are just so many dreams of bits and bytes in a repository or Visio file. It’s worth remembering that.

PMs will generally tend to favour protecting the cost and delivery date of the solution over the quality. Yes, this is a generalisation, but it’s much easier to measure the project budget and delivery date than the quality – and people get rewarded on things that can be measured.

You clearly have an interest in the solution quality. But don’t forget that you also have an interest in the cost and schedule. Remember that you are also responsible for the road-map of change – not just this particular project. Any over-runs on cost or schedule will impact the wider road-map of projects as well.

So how do you manage this balance of the three? Firstly, by recognising that it is a balance and that the “right” decision is not always cut and dried. Secondly, by recognising that if the PM, architect and sponsor are working as a team for, and with, each other the chances of success for the project just got doubled. Here are my tips for building relationships with your project manager.

Tip #1 – Ask for help

Generally, we are not good at persuasion. On the flip side, project managers tend to be experts at persuasion. If you need to get a stakeholder on side or find a way around somebody blocking the project’s progress talk to your project manager. They have a vested interest in getting this resolved and the skill set to be able to help you.

Tip #2 – Be pro-active with the issues log

The issues log is the most likely source of architectural risks/compromises. Watch it like a hawk! When you see an issue that has an architectural implication talk to your PM, get it assigned to you and then solve it quickly. Believe me, this is my biggest source of brownie points for all the PMs I have worked with. The by-product is that, because you have the ownership of the issue, you are more likely to get the better architectural solution (caveat: don’t forget your wider responsibilities about budget and timescale).

Tip #3 – Communicate early

PMs hate surprises! They really, really hate them. If you’re aware of something that might impact the project tell your PM. Also tell them you’re on the case and will keep them up to speed, and then be on the case and keep them up to speed. In my experience they would much rather know about 10 potential risks where only one of them becomes an issue than not know about any of them and be hit with a curve ball.

Tip #4 – Abdicate from the Change Board (Advanced)

I know, I know. This feels wrong. Why should you voluntarily give up any control of change requests? Two reasons: firstly, it is a powerful demonstration of trust in your PM; secondly, it frees your time to do other stuff – like being an architect to those other 3, 4, 5, 6 projects. Having said that, I would only advocate doing this if you’ve successfully built a relationship with your PM to the extent that you are confident they will consult you when appropriate. This is why it’s labelled “Advanced”. In any case, you are watching the change log and talking to your PM about the change requests anyway, aren’t you? Of course you are!


  • The project manager is the guy who makes your architectural dreams reality
  • When the PM, architect and sponsor are on the “same page” project delivery probability rises exponentially
  • Having a PM as a team-mate is much easier than them being neutral and you really don’t want them as an enemy

About EBAnous

EBAnous works as a business architect for a FTSE-100 company in the south-east of the UK
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