I’d love to meet some of Andy Crowe’s Alpha Project Managers, the ones who perform so superbly at this most difficult of professions.
Can they really be so calmly proficient? Are they really so good at command and control over all those battering and befuddling problems that entangle most of their peers? Are they superior beings?
Andy’s organization, Velociteach, published the Alpha study of 876 project managers and their associates. The subjects provided input and information that turned up the 18 project managers who were highlighted in the Alpha Project Managers book. It is spot-on for what it does, but there’s an underlying reality that it touches upon only peripherally.
The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge – the PMBOK Guide – is the backbone, the bible, of the Project Management Institute’s vision of the competent project manager. It therefore is the defining focus of PMI’s Project Management Professional certification, the coveted PMP.
The Guide devotes 500 or so pages to the management of 47 processes, representing nine knowledge areas and organized into five process groups.
About stakeholders in the PMBOK Guide? You get a thorough description of all the things the Project Manager is responsible for doing and accomplishing in the Organizational Influences and Stakeholder Management sections of the Guide.
So Andy Crowe’s Alpha study tells you what the experts achieve and what they have to say about it. The PMBOK Guide tells you what to manage to get there, with descriptions and checklists. Neither reveals the how-to secrets of what you do to be one of those exemplary people.
This is not to criticize the PMBOK Guide or dismiss the Velociteach survey. They are sound and valuable revelatory and instructional documents. We need them.
But we mere mortals, having read, turn then to face our daily realities and have more than a few questions. OK, now what? How do I make these things happen in my all-too-gritty world of distant executives, vague directives, shifting objectives, scarce resources and otherwise-occupied associates?
How do you “do” Leadership? What is Team Building, more usefully defined than ropes courses and fun games on those days off in the picnic area? If I’m the Project Manager, how do I manage from a starting point akin to a footrace in a mud pit?
Conclusion: Reality is obvious, but not simple. If you are to manage projects well, you must be competent at process, and you must be effective in relationships.
Start with the process, and you immediately discover that it is a process of relationships before it gets to planning and execution.
There is no separation between how the project is to be done and the network of professional alliances that will be required to do it. The project manager needs constructive commitment from all those people who control the necessary resources – or ARE those resources – that must be invested in the project.
The devil in project management is that the necessary alliances generally don’t exist at the outset. Everybody has other commitments and priorities, and this project will barge in and steal away the talent and other resources they need. The project manager stands outside a pre-existing structure, intent upon pulling pieces out of it.
Since that is so, the project manager’s supreme initial challenge is a political one: Establishing the primary alliance, the one that holds the operating authority of the organization.
It is up to the project manager to make sure the organization puts some heft behind this project, clearly delegating authority to him or her. The organization has assigned you a project because the organization wants something that isn’t going to come about without extra-normal activity.
People are going to be asked to do things they didn’t have to do before. Why should they? What is to motivate people to respond constructively to the project manager?
They’ll do it because their leadership has made an open commitment that clearly establishes new priorities all the way down the organization. Everybody affected now knows that this project is part of their jobs, no matter how much of a pain it is.
This isn’t easy, because we like to do a good job in our current duties, and we are really comfortable with the ways we have developed to do it. Well, the boss says it’s important, and my standing will be determined by how I support it. Senior management will be paying attention. OK, what can I do for you?
It is not unusual that a project manager’s senior management doesn’t want to get involved to that extent. Hey, we delegated this to you – Why are you still hanging around? Get out there and get that project done.
The history of project management is littered with the carcasses of projects once headed by people who took that for an answer.
Welcome to negotiating, project manager. Your knowledge of past projects, and your understanding of what this one will require, tell you the natural attitude toward this disruption of yours will be passive resistance throughout the organization . . . unless managers and staff people have reason to get on board.
At the initiation of this responsibility, you work assertively and competently to tie proper delegation to project success. You have perfected the ability to present logic and fact to your superiors to convince them that you will hand them a winner after they present you with real opportunity.
As you conduct the innumerable negotiations throughout the project, your kit of persuasive tools must have more in it than charm. A mandate from on high does wonders. So does a record of having led successful projects, and providing an invigorating and enjoyable professional experience in doing so.
The two go together: The Alpha Project Managers book reports that the supervising managers of top project managers have no problem giving the PMs all the latitude they need to run their operations. Also, the best people in any organization want to be part of its most successful and prominent initiatives. They know who can put them in such an environment, and they’re eager to sign up.
That skill set – negotiating and managing relationships – makes everything else work. Without it, man, this job is a grind.
The single most important stakeholder is the Project Manager. This one is the catalyst, a person of heavy responsibility, immense possibility and total dependency. If it were easy, anybody could do it.
It’s not easy, it’s not simple -- and that’s why we salute the top two percent.