The Project Manager Super Hero: leadership challenges of delivering the amazing for nothing by yesterday.

There is a sub-group in the working population whose environment could funnel them into a jaded and jaundiced view of humankind. If business success has many parents and failure is an orphan, these are the foster-parents. 

I am referring, of course, to Project Managers.

Except, as I know, many avoid being cynical and remain enthusiastic professionals, investing heavily in their own improvement. I met some of them at my presentation to the PMI last week.

I exaggerate (but not by much) in the metaphor I employ for the kick-off of the typical project.

A passer-by encounters a drunk looking for his house keys close to a lamppost. He offers some assistance, and they both look under the streetlight together. After some time searching and failing to find the keys, the passer-by  asks the drunk if he is sure this is where he lost them. The drunk replies, “No, but this is where the light is.”

As shown in the graphic above, a lot of Project Managers will support Executives by bringing along very sophisticated process to help shift the direction of the light. All of which is impressive, but never finds the keys. Project managers are then set to fail, nicely summarised by a Project Manager gave me the quote, “all of which means you have to deliver the amazing, for nothing, by yesterday.”

Here are some tips on how a Project Manager can start to make a big difference.

1. Introduce the 3 Why's men. You have to unveil the potential for the project.Ask the Sponsor why the project is important, and ask "Why?" again at least two more times, but don't be annoying while doing it.

2. Make the ambiguous explicit: Despite Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion, Groups don’t think. Only individuals think, and until we have the equivalent of Google Glasses for the brain, Line Managers and Project Managers need to record the challenges to be overcome, and the value the project will generate. To do this I use the GOSH template or an equivalent. 

3. Classify the problems: A critical stage which dictates whether you end looking for the keys or moving the light. I map the output of the GOSH template onto a Cynefin framework. Many Executives wish their lives to be in the Simple domain and this colours their judgement. In fact, the value they create is often in the Complex. This exercise makes public the Complex but does so quite gently.

Think of it as titling the mirror gently toward the Emperor and revealing that he has no clothes But does so in the relative modesty of his State bedchamber.

4. Right tools, right job. If your project has Complex problems you will require some excess of resources; you will need to experiment; you will not be able to predict explicit outcomes with certainty. There are excellent project management processes for solving Complex problems (Agile/Scrum). A table linking tools with problems is shown below.

Here’s the headline:

The keystone to future success is the upfront explicit conceptual agreement with the Sponsor on the value of the project, and the nature of the challenges to be overcome .

Copies of the presentation made to the PMI can be obtained here or via the PMI website.

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.
— Charles Darwin
Simon LuntComment