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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Modern Project Manager

     The PMBOK Guide describes 42 processes necessary to manage a project, and organizes them into five process groups and nine knowledge areas.
     It takes nothing away from the Project Management Institute formulation to state the basic truth that not a single process, not a shred of knowledge is worth anything without one factor that is the ultimate essential. The “sine qua non – without which nothing.”


     I rewind and rerun in my imagination the project meetings of my life, especially the famous opening act: the initial organizational session.
     I see once more the veiled eyes, the crossed arms, the sagging body language, the disguised yawns and smirks. Hear the doubts and obstacles and competing priorities. Workloads. I feel the palpable rejection and get that old familiar lost, gone feeling, sliding down that slippery slope once again. All alone.
     Then I fast forward to today’s older-wiser mental video of the project manager behavior that reflects a deep understanding of why those long-ago days were the way they were, and a complete grasp of what it is that was missing then.
     Not only does this modern project manager understand the situation and grasp its implications, he/she also knows what to do about it. This project manager will not become immersed in planning details that result in nothing. Or get entangled in excuses, squabbles and slippages. This project manager will pay attention to business, and will do so in an order of priorities that recognizes the sine qua non of commitment.

     The project manager constructively engages the very deep-down human infrastructure that guarantees successful project performance and full satisfaction of the project intent. This project manager has, in fact, done what needs to be done about it before this first project meeting, and will now proceed to do it again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Winning without Power

The Emperor Nero ordered his Roman subjects to worship his horse as a god, basically as an idle demonstration of his power. He did it because he could, and there was no way to stop him. You could wind up dead if you didn’t comply.
That is authority without responsibility.
The modern project manager, on the other hand, often is the one who must meet quality standards within cost and time limits set by someone else – and do it through the work of people he/she doesn’t control. Amid plentiful risk and multiple complexities.
That is responsibility without authority.
The project manager swings in the breeze between those two poles. He/she is at the mercy of people who own all the marbles and can yank them back at any time. Simultaneously that project manager must somehow get tough stuff done predictably and consistently by “team members” who have no obligation to comply while they have lots of other things to do.
Too many project managers respond to this by working like dogs, scrambling in pursuit of busy people and filling in the gaps through their own efforts.
In the world of management, among the worst things you can do is to substitute personal labor for management direction. When you, the manager, pick up your shovel and go to the mine, you often are the best digger down there. While you’re demonstrating that, the actual designated diggers are leaning on their tools to watch admiringly, if they’re not off on some other dig.
As this sort of thing is going on, management is not happening. When you, the leader, become overbusy, a lot of really important stuff goes by the boards. Leadership very significantly depends upon observation and analysis, paying attention, understanding. It demands persuasion, the ability to convince people to do what they otherwise wouldn’t do.
You can’t determine what’s happening or convince anybody if you don’t have time to conduct adequate observation and effective communication. You anticipate/solve problems and build productive mutual relationships through attention to events and people, watching and listening, responding to variances, needs and ideas, showing people they can look to you for solutions, assistance, ideas and inspiration.
A workload overload robs the project manager of the time and mental/emotional balance required to do that sort of thing. And, truth be told, many project managers secretly long to have these folks get out the way so they can have at the work themselves.
In sum, the project situation is set up to leave the project manager all alone out there with the responsibility, facing at best a major set of challenges. At worst, the view is a solid wall of people’s backs. What to do?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Don't Just Do It! Do It Right

Just do it!
What a great slogan! It clears away a lot of the fuzz and distraction. Just do it. Act. Get things done. Results. We love it. The phrase emits a shiny, glowing simplicity that feels really good.
It would be great if only it worked. It doesn’t. For the athletes (and wannabes) the Nike slogan is aimed at, there is an implication of a simple need to unleash intense action based on high-level preparation. As a slogan, it may even have value for the couch potato who needs a boot into motion, any motion.
For general purposes of life for the rest of us, the “just do it” concept is dangerous nonsense. Think about it in the context of managing projects. Reasonable expectations about human behavior say “no way just do it.” You can’t lead project teams that way.
“Just do it!” says “impulse.” Don’t take time to think it over – your determination might drain away. Jump before you think about it too much.
What do you think it does to the team you’re trying to lead if people never know when you’re going to lurch into unexpected, unexplained action in response to some unpredictable impulse? That’s not leadership; it’s solo hyperactivity.
This is not to dismiss the project manager’s need for motivation. Leaders are by no means exempt from the fundamental and very human reality that we need a recharge on occasion. In fact, a project manager’s emotional battery must have extra capacity. It has to supply the energy for the leader’s own demanding role as well as frequent jump-starts for numerous dependent stakeholders. If the project manager is not driving forward with vigor and confidence, everyone else loses headway. The drag increases exponentially and can become irreversible very quickly.
So the project manager must have and display fire and determination, as well as focus and mental engagement. The project manager’s behavior must reassure and inspire others. He/she must be tuned to the needs and momentum of all those others who operate at lesser speeds on lower levels.
That central role demands steady direction and guidance. Impulse is out. But the need for self-motivation is not. And, in fact, for the project manager the need is greater – often much greater – than that of other project stakeholders.
But we’re not superhuman. Just do it! won’t do, so we must look elsewhere for self-motivation.