Spotless Mind of a Project Manager

July 1, 2009
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In almost every piece of writing, I see some project success or failure stories. In those papers, careful analysis is followed by reasons for the failure or critical success factors are followed by best practice recommendations.

In this article, I would like to point out three important factors from the project manager’s standpoint which I believe are essential for the success of any project in an organization. These are simple but often overlooked factors that each project manager should bear in mind.

Keeping that in mind, this will be a very experimental essay trying to address the challenges a project manager faces during the typical project which I hope can shed some light on how to really successfully manage a project. It would be good practice to consider these factors during an implementation of a customer value management (CVM) programme which really includes all aspects of those from the project managing perspective.

Change

The first factor is about change. Every project includes change. Change happens in the way that people do their jobs, in the way all the processes are reengineered and so forth. Thus, change is the inevitable result of every project.

On the other hand,

In almost every piece of writing, I see some project success or failure stories. In those papers, careful analysis is followed by reasons for the failure or critical success factors are followed by best practice recommendations.

In this article, I would like to point out three important factors from the project manager’s standpoint which I believe are essential for the success of any project in an organization. These are simple but often overlooked factors that each project manager should bear in mind.

Keeping that in mind, this will be a very experimental essay trying to address the challenges a project manager faces during the typical project which I hope can shed some light on how to really successfully manage a project. It would be good practice to consider these factors during an implementation of a customer value management (CVM) programme which really includes all aspects of those from the project managing perspective.

Change

The first factor is about change. Every project includes change. Change happens in the way that people do their jobs, in the way all the processes are reengineered and so forth. Thus, change is the inevitable result of every project.

On the other hand, most of the people in an organization are afraid of change because, change brings many uncertainties. Even if what they have currently is not satisfying them, a lot of people in an organization are afraid to venture into the unknown. Therefore, change is often resisted.

I think one of the essential roles of project manager (PM) should be managing the change. PM has to know that there will be fear of change from all units of the organization and it is quite likely that there will be a resistance to change. This has nothing to do with technology or some other functional characteristics of the project. It is simply about basic human nature. The only way I can see to help those who are afraid of change to give them a vision that is worth following. It is again the PM’s responsibility to manage all stakeholders in a way that make them comfortable enough.

Another natural drive for people to resist change other than fear is their willingness to preserve the status quo. People tend to invest their energies to maintain their positions and power. Since every project attempts to change the existing situation, those people who like to maintain their existing positions even make things more complicated from the project managing perspective.

As a result, if you are managing a project, you have to understand the forces that are against you. Managing the people’s fear of change and their willingness to preserve the status quo can be extremely powerful asset for the sake of project that each PM should consider seriously.

People

Managing a project is managing people. It is really that simple. To a large extent, people are key elements in the project as the success of project management is highly dependent on them being involved in running and operating projects. It is because PM tries to obtain results through people. And the way in which the project manager deals with people and how these people deal with one another can make or break project performance.

Managing the people is actually a work of art. You don’t necessarily have to have the right people, with the right skills and the proper tools, in the right quantity at the right time. As long as the PM ensures that people in the project know what needs to be done, when, and how, that brings the success.

It is vital to create synergy between the scientific and human sides of the project management that effectively manages and motivates individuals to achieve higher performance and project objectives.

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Figure 1: People Challenges in Projects

Leadership

I think leadership in a project is a really important substance. So what is the deal with leadership? I think leadership is about 3 things: capability, collaboration and judgement.

Capability. The most important capability that a project manager can have is the capability to ask a question and hear the answer. There will be many times during the project when the PM is required to take some actions. Project managers have to ask lots of questions to understand what is out there. And they have to get the right answers and give some decisions based upon them. Therefore, asking the right questions and hearing the right answer is one aspect.

Another aspect about capability is to keep learning. Capability is about being able to grab new things quickly even without any background information about that particular subject. I haven’t seen too many project managers who can do both things at the same time – managing a project which includes scope, stakeholder, time, risks management activities and managing the functional or technical part of the project. Wearing 2 hats in the project management area does not necessarily mean that you can successfully handle both of them together. Instead, the project manager who keeps learning during the project can make a considerable impact on the overall project success.

Collaboration. Good decisions are the result of diverse people coming together examining every point of view. Group thinking is a powerful tool. I believe the ultimate goal of the project manager should be to build diverse group of people who can make better decisions. I accept that it is much harder to reach a common consensus that way, where there exist different points of view and different knowledge bases. But given the fact that PM will get better answers out of those sessions, it is important to make use of the collaborative environment.

PMs can use technology to collaborate. I will not bring into play one of those buzzwords like Web 2.0, PM 2.0 or Collaboration 2.0. However, it is worth emphasizing that technology helps leverage the collaborative decision making process. So why not make use of it?

Judgement. There is tons of overwhelming information that we face everyday. Because we have all the technology, we are required to act and respond quickly. It is the same for the PM in a project as well. PMs always need to make judgements between many choices. They have to decide whether it is right time to act or wait. They have to consider whether they have all the information needed to conclude and make judgement. Therefore, project managers are always challenged in making judgements about what is reasonable and when to act during the course of entire project lifecycle.

Successful project management of a customer value management programme – as it is in all projects – is critical to the success of the initiative as a whole. Sophisticated project management tools, approaches and techniques can make the life of a project manager remarkably easier. But I think one should not ignore those simple factors if he/she wants to form a spotless mind as a project manager.

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