Project Management: Reactive vs. Proactive

It is important to make a distinction between reactive project managers and proactive project managers.  In other words, the difference between a project manager and a great project manager. Often, project managers end up in their roles accidentally because they were good at the technical side of the project, or there was a gap that needed to be filled, or maybe just a wrong personal/professional decision. However, if you are one of the enthusiasts in this occupation, there are a lot of things that can be done to deliver results beyond the stakeholders’ expectations by being a proactive project manager.

Short-Term vs Long-Term

Proactive project managers pay attention to long term needs and interests of the project stakeholders, as opposed to the short-term focus of reactive project managers. To enable their proactiveness, they usually have strong relations with the project sponsor and all other beneficiaries or contributors of the project. They are  actively involved in each project activity and keep the stakeholders informed throughout the process. Being closely involved in the project is a dominant characteristic of proactive project managers. It does not look good when the project manager stays out of the loop and s/he is the last one to learn about a critical challenge or change in the project’s direction.

Good vs Great Planning

Another criterion is the quality of the project plan. Project plans are a critical tool in managing projects and it is possible to meet the minimum requirements by creating a simple plan as a reactive project manager. By doing this, a project manager is more likely to struggle in execution, due to the many missing pieces from planning. On the other hand, it is also possible to create a more detailed plan to cover all knowledge areas of project management practice and making sure the plan is accommodating needs and concerns of all stakeholders as a proactive project manager. The project plan also needs to be revised while the project is in progress, it is a living document and should not be outdated.

Minimal Reporting vs Communication Plan

Reporting is another critical responsibility of a proactive project manager. Most of the time Project Management Offices set certain requirements to deliver weekly or monthly project reports. However, it is hard to fulfill reporting requirements of all projects with these standard processes in place. A proactive project manager would create a detailed communication plan in the beginning as part of planning phase. This plan lays out communication and reporting requirements and preferences of all stakeholders. It might be in the form of a matrix table to make it easier to follow through and explain to others. The format is not as important as much as gaining support and agreement of all parties involved.

Solve Problems vs Anticipate Problems

While reactive project managers resolve problems as they occur, a proactive project manager is always prepared to deal with any significant issues if they occur. The ability to anticipate issues requires a strong Risk and Issue Management process in place, in addition to personal dedication to flawless results. Otherwise, they would be busy firefighting to resolve or postpone issues rather than enjoying the sight of a nicely flowing project. A Risk Plan should be created in the planning phase or even earlier during initiation phase, if possible. , In the critical monitoring and controlling phase, the proactive project manager continually follows up on these risks and updates the risk registry appropriately.

At the end of the project, everybody wants to see successful results, and this is only possible with a dedication to high quality and continuous improvements throughout the project’s lifecycle. This quality expectation is initiated by the proactive project manager and adopted by the team members, which creates a strong team foundation and positive project environment. Good things are going to happen if you plan and strive for them to happen, not magically by themselves.

Here is a table to summarize the comparison of a reactive and proactive project manager’s characteristics.

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