Stop looking for a superhero project manager

I have a memory passed down via family members that as a 9-year old when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I responded that I wanted to be an expert!   I’m sure my parents find it a very irritating response and would have preferred an answer like doctor or engineer or lawyer!

Whatever I meant at that time, I am pretty clear now, that this is just not possible. Today there is so much information, so many insights and experiences that we need access to as project managers–this cannot possibly dwell in the body and spirit of one person. Karen Stephenson captures it perfectly in her phrase,“I store my [know-how] knowledge in my friends”.

Networks matter

Much research over the last twenty years has attempted to identify the characteristics of successful project managers. However, more recently this has been questioned and replaced with a more interesting debate. What makes for successful project management? The argument goes that even the ‘best’ project manager acting alone without support from the organization and without appropriate collaboration with peers and other stakeholders is unlikely to be successful.

In our own research on the characteristics of high performing project managers, we found that the high performing group was much more likely to have extended personal and professional relationships within and outside their organizations. It wasn’t just that they had more expertise to draw upon, but also that when they needed to interact with stakeholders, to further the goals of their projects; they were more likely to have pre-existing relationships to draw upon. They build up and valued ‘social capital’ in ways that less experienced project managers were unlikely to do.

Successful management

Project management, as a concept is important because first of all it acknowledges that management is not the domain of the project manager alone but a bringing together of leadership, coordination and drive from several different sources. Leadership and direction from sponsors and business owners must overlap and integrate with the leadership and coordination driven through the project manager. In complex project and programs, there may be several roles involved in this ‘management’ process.

Project management also captures the idea that management goes beyond the roles, capabilities and skills of individuals. It includes organizational, individual and group competencies which contribute to overall project capability within project-based organization:

  • Individual capability: The critical competencies which contribute to the success of individuals roles within a project (e.g. the project manager, the sponsor etc.)
  • Organizational capability: The ability of the organization to develop and support processes, procedures and cultural acceptance of project management. The rising popularity of project offices is an attempt to address the projectization of organizations–the development of the so-called project-based-organization (PBO)
  • Collective capability: The ability to create and exploit collective approaches to the achievement of project goals. The idea is that a project’s strength lies in the ability to combine competencies in order to produce outcomes that can achieve an outcome that could not have been achieved by any one of the deployed in isolation. There appear to be parallels here with approaches taken within the Agile framework which emphasizes the importance of collaborative structures to allow developers and the business to work together in delivering projects goals.

Louise will be talking on the importance of networking for project managers at the Project Management South Africa conference coming up in November 2018.

https://www.projectmanagement.org.za/page/2018Conference

 

 

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Are PMOs killing the role of the project manager?

With the PMO Conference coming up in London, I think it is worth considering just how far the role of the PMO should go.  I have been involved in the PMO competency development work with the Flashmob team and at times it concerned me that we were in danger of defining the PMO as a monster which inappropriately seizes responsibilities from the project manager.

As Collin Ellis, remarked in his great article on Agile PMOs “The fact of the matter is, if you need a central ‘unit’ to tell a project manager to follow a process to build a plan to deliver a project, then you’ve already failed.”

The PMO must be an empowering influence in the project community, not a disempowering one.  I wish I was at the conference to see, for example, Richard Hendrickse talk on “Developing PMO Servant Leaders”.  Surely this is the style and culture that the PMO must seize if project management and project managers are to remain relevant in our organisations?

Continue reading “Are PMOs killing the role of the project manager?”

Renewing your PMO

If you are lucky enough to have attended the PMO conference in London on 13th June 2018 then you may be already be reflecting on:  How could the PMO improve?  How can we increase the value of our PMO?  What kind of PMO should we be?

A view that PMOs should not be permanent structures has gained ground recently.  Todd Williams, in his insightful book on “Filling Executive Gaps”, suggests that PMOs are perceived as essentially bureaucratic and they all tend to outlive their usefulness.  The need to re-invent and re-align the PMO every few years to remain valuable has almost become a mantra in PMO circles.

Continue reading “Renewing your PMO”

When the budget really matters: A church restoration with lottery funding

When Ian Cribbes, took over the project management of the St Edburg’s church conservation work in Bicester he had not quite realized how different it would be from the projects and programmes he had managed for over 30 years for BAE Systems.    The project had a £205,500 budget – somewhat smaller than the multi-million-pound projects he had been involved in his professional career.  This budget came in two phases; phase 1 was for £19,500 and was allocated for the carrying out of development work (the production of plans and reports); phase 2 was for £186,000 and was allocated to the actual works to be carried out.  But, as he is the first to admit, this project proves the point that being small does not necessarily make it simple.  Sometimes tight constraints demand higher levels of capability and attention to detail from the project manager.

The St Edburg’s work was a conservation project to restore its Grade 1 listed building, parts of which date back 900 years and was funded by the Heritage Lottery.  (In the UK work on a Grade 1 Listed Building is categorized as ‘conservation work’ when its purpose is to retain what is there for future generations.  Renovation and restoration, on the other hand, is when work is carried out to take things back to what they were.)

Ian is an experienced project manager and knew he had things to learn as the construction domain, and in particular heritage conservation, was new to him.  What he hadn’t foreseen was how the difference in the funding and the stipulated budgetary control processes would affect the planning and every aspect of the execution of the project.  The budget constraint was absolute – it was this amount and not a penny more!  While the control of spending on commercial projects is important, with most, especially larger, budgets there are usually opportunities for virement – moving costs between account categories.  It is also often the case that there isn’t an absolute cost: when push comes to shove – more money can be found.  This was very much not the case on this project.

Continue reading “When the budget really matters: A church restoration with lottery funding”

Culling projects: A critical portfolio process

With most organisations reporting more projects that they can resource, stopping projects which are addressing yesterday’s problems may be even more important than not starting those projects designed to address today’s.

In a 2011 review of 15 client portfolios, the UK project consultancy group, CITI reported that in annual portfolio prioritisation more than one third of the projects and programmes approved were carried forwarded from previous years, with 20% having survived two annual review processes.  The question perhaps to ask is – does this reflect a real need for long-term projects or is it that management decision making around stopping something is just so much harder than approving a project to start?

Significant portfolio management attention has been paid over the last few years to developing improved governance processes around the front-end selection and prioritisation of projects.  But portfolio monitoring and control is a much greyer area and often confusion arises between the governance responsibilities at the portfolio and project sponsorship levels. Continue reading “Culling projects: A critical portfolio process”

Top tip for 2018: Be a Modern Professional Learner

How to make this year successful

Late in 2017, Elizabeth Harrin, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, asked me to contribute to her Top Tips for 2018 blog.  These blogs are available in an e-book on Elizabeth’s site.   Here is the long version of my thoughts.  Many thanks to Elizabeth for inspiring me to take out the time to reflect and gather my thoughts.

As a project coach, I get many opportunities to ask the question,” What did you learn from most over the last few years?”                 So far no one has ever answered; “There was this great course” or even, sadly; “There was this great presentation you did on…”.

Most adult learning comes from relevant experience: challenges faced on a project, interactions with peers, or opportunities which force reflection upon and make sense of our experience.

Continue reading “Top tip for 2018: Be a Modern Professional Learner”

The myths of stakeholder management

Project stakeholder management has borrowed many of its concepts from other discipline areas. This cross-usage of wisdom is helpful but its application in projects is still to be proven and bedded-in to the way we do things.  After all, it’s only in the last few years that stakeholder management has been recognised in project management bodies of knowledge.  In the meantime trial and error application has resulted in a number of myths about its application to projects.

Continue reading “The myths of stakeholder management”

Renewing your PMO

Managing Successful Projects

If you are lucky enough to be attending the PMO conference in London on 13th June 2018 then you may be already be reflecting on:  How could the PMO improve?  How can we increase the value of our PMO?  What kind of PMO should we be?

A view that PMOs should not be permanent structures has gained ground recently.  Todd Williams, in his insightful book on “Filling Executive Gaps”, suggests that PMOs are perceived as essentially bureaucratic and they all tend to outlive their usefulness.  The need to re-invent and re-align the PMO every few years to remain valuable has almost become a mantra in PMO circles.

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