Lessons for an Accidental Profession Jeffrey K, Pinto and Om P. Kharbanda rejects and project management are the wave of the future in global business. Increasingly technically complex products and processes, vastly shortened time-to-market windows, and the need for cross-functional expertise make project management an important and powerful tool in the hands of organizations that understand its use. But the expanded use of such techniques is not always being met by a concomitant increase in the pool of competent project managers.
Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, it is the very popularity of project management that presents many organizations with their most severe challenges. They often belatedly discover that they simply do not have sufficient numbers of the sorts of competent project managers who are often the key driving force behind successful product or service development. Senior managers in many companies readily acknowledge the ad hoc manner in which most project nlanagers acquire their skills, but they are unsure how to better develop and provide for a supply of well-trained project leaders for the future.
In this article, we seek to offer a unique perspective on this neglected species. Though much has been written on how to improve the process of project management, less is known about the sorts of skills and challenges that specifically characterize project managers. What we do know tends to offer a portrait of successful project managers as strong leaders, possessing a variety of problem-solving, communication, motivational, visionary, and team-building skills. Authors such as Posner (1987), Einsiedel (1987), and Petterson (1991) are correct: Project managers are a special breed.
Managing projects is a unique challenge that requires a strategy and methodology all its own. Perhaps most important, it requires people willing to function as leaders in every sense of the term. They must not only chart the appropriate course, but provide the means, the support, P and the confidence for their teams to attain these goals. Effective project managers often operate less as directive and autocratic decision makers than as facilitators, team members, and cheerleaders. In effect, the characteristics we look for in project managers are varied and difficult to pin down.
Our goal is to offer some guidelines sion, based on our own views with a number of ers-most of whom had sons the hard way. “Accidental” Having Humbled in to the knowledge thaf project management has become a vital tool in their organizafional processes, corporafions now musf learn how best to develop and use thaf tool, for an accidental profesexperiences and intersenior project managto learn their own les- Project Managers Project managers occupy a unique and often precarious position within many firms.
Possessing little formal authority and forced to operate outside the traditional organizational hierarchy, they quickly and often belatedly learn the real limits of their power. It has been said that an effective project manager is the kingpin, but not the king. They are the bosses, it is true, but often in a loosely defined way. Indeed, in most firms they may lack the authority to conduct performance appraisals and offer incentives and rewards to their subordinates. As a result. their management styles must be those of persuasion and influence, rather than coercion and command.
Because of these and other limitations on the flexibility and power of project managers, project 41 management has rightly been termed the “accidental profession” by more than one writer. There are two primary reasons for this sobriquet. First, few formal or systematic programs exist for selecting and training project managers, even within firms that specialize in project inanagcment work. This results at best in ad hoc training that may or may not teach these people the skills they need to succeed.
Most project managers fall into their responsil3ilities by happenstance rather than 13); calculation. Second, 21s Frame (1987) cogently observed, few individuals grow up with the dream of one day becoming a project manager. It is neither a well-defined nor a weil-unclerstood career path within most modern organizations. Generally. the role is thrust upon people, rather than being sought. Consider the typical experiences of project managers within many corporations. Novice man:qgzrs, new to the company and its culture. re given 3 project to complete with the directive to operate within 2 set of narrowly defined constraints. These constraints most commonly include 21specified time frame for completion, :I budget, and a set of performance characteristics. Those who are able to quickly master the nature of their myriad duties succeed; those who do not generally fail. This “fly or die” mentality goes fat toward creating an attitude of fear among potential project managers. Generation after generation of them learn their duties the hard sly. ften after having either failed completely or stuml~led along from one crisis to another. The predictaide result is wasteful: friilctl projects; managers hatding entrenched bureaucracy ;mci powerful fattions: money. market opportunities, :mci other resources irretrie~l3iy lost to the comp:tny. The amazing part of this scenario is that it is repeated again and again in company after conpany. Rather than treating project management 21s the unique and valuable discipline it is. neccssiWing formal training and selection policies. many companies continue to repeat their past mistakes.
This almost leads one to helieve they implicitly view experience 3rd failure 3s the best tcicher. We need to shed light on the wide range of clemands, opportunities, travails. challenges. and vexations that are part of hecoming ;I better project manager. Many of the problems these intiividuals struggle with every day are far more managerial or behavioral in ndurc than technical. Such I~ehavioral chdlenges are frequently ,exing. and though they can sometimes seem inconsequential, they have ;L tremendous imp:tct on the successful implementation of projects.
For example, it does not take long for many project managers to disco. er exactly hov far their personal power and st:ltus will t:tke them in interacting with the rest of the organization. Hence, an underst;unciing of influence tactics and politic;~l behavior is absolutely essential. LJnfortunately, novice project managers are rarely clued into this important bit of information until it is too lateuntil, perhaps, they have appealecl through formal channels for extra resources and been denied.
Consider the following examples: l A long-distance telephone company whose CEO becan~ so enamored of the concept of high-profile project teams-or “skunkworks. “ as they have come to be called-that he assigned that title to the few most highly visible, strategically important projects. Quickly, l>oth senior and middle managers in &pa-tmcnts across the organization came to realize that the only way to get their pet projects the resources necessary to succeed ~1s To redesignate allnew projects zs “skunkworks,” At last report. here were more than 75 high-profile skunkworks projects whose managers report directly to the CEO. The conpany now has se‘ere difficulties in making research allocation decisions among its projects anti routinely underfunds some vital projects while overfunding other, less important ones. l A large computer hardware manufacturer has lien dominated by the members of the had Wu-e engineering department to such an extent that practically all new product ideas originate internally, within the department.
Hp the time nlarketing personnel (sneeringly called “order takers” 1,~ the cnginecring department) are brought on l~oard. they arc presented with 3 fait accompli: ;i finished product they are instructed to sell. Marketing managers are now so cynical about new projects that they usually do not even I,other stding a representative to new product development team meetings. l A medium-sized manufacturing firm ma& it ;L policy to re~varcl and punish project managt3-s on the ixisis of their ability to bring projects in on time and under i,ucigct.
These project managers ‘ere never held to any requirement that the project IX accepted 13): its clients or heconic con1mercially successful. They quickly learned that their re~3rds were simply tied to satisfying the cost accountants, so they l>egan to cut corners and make decisions that seriously underminecl product quality. l Projects in one division of 21large, multinational corpor:ttion are routinely assigned to neu managers vbho often ha~ less than one year of experience ,ith the company. Gi. n ;I project scheduling software pxkage md the telephone number of :I senior project man:iger to he Iised they are instructed to form . ‘only in emergencies,“ their project teams and begin the development process m-itliout any formd training or channels of ~ommunic:ltion to important clients and functional groups. Not surprisingly, senior managers at this company estimate that fewer than SO pa- cent of new product development efforts are profitable. Most take so long to develop, or incur such high cost overruns, that they are either abandoned before scheduled introduction or never live up to their potential in the arketplace. This ad hoc approach to project managementgoupled, as it frequently is, with an onthe-job training philosophy-is pervasive. It is also pernicious. Under the best of circumstances. project managers are called upon to lead, coordinate, plan, and control a diverse and complex set of processes and people in the pursuit of achieving project objectives. To hamper them with inadequate training and unrealistic expectations is to unnecessarily penalize them before they can begin to operate with any degree of confidence or effectiveness.
The successful management of projects is simultaneously a human and technical challenge, requiring a far-sighted strategic outlook coupled with the flexibility to react to conflicts and trouble areas as they arise on a daily basis. The project managers who are ultimately successful at their profession must learn to deal with and anticipate the constraints on their project team and personal freedom of action while consistently keeping their eyes on the ultimate prize. From Whence Comes the Challenge? ments, who bring their own attitudes, time frames, learning, past experiences, and biases to the team.
Creating a cohesive and potent team out of this level of heterogeneity presents a challenge for even the most seasoned and skilled of project managers. But what is the ultimate objective? What determines a successful project and how does it differ from projects we may rightfully consider to have failed? Any seasoned project manager will usually tell you that a successful project is one that has come in on time, has remained under budget, and performs as expected (that is, it conforms to specifications).
Recently, though, there has been a reassessment of this traditional model for project success. The old triple constraint is rapidly being replaced by a new model, invoking a fourth hurdle for project success: client satisfaction. This means that a project is only successful if it satisfies the needs of its intended user. As a result, client satisfaction places a new and important constraint on project managers. No wonder. then, that there is a growing interest in the project manager’s role within the corporation. THE VITAL DOZEN FOR PROJECT MANAGERS
One of the most intriguing and challenging aspects of project management lies in the relationship of project teams to the rest of the parent organization. With the exception of companies that are set up with matrix or project structures, most firms using project management techniques employ some form of standard functional structure. When project teams are added to an organization, the structural rules change dramatically. The vast majority of personnel who serve on project teams do so while maintaining links back to their functional departments.
In fact, they typically split their time between the project and their functional duties. The temporary nature of projects, combined with the very real limitations on power and discretion most project managers face, constitutes the core challenge of managing projects effectively. Clearly the very issues that characterize projects as distinct from functional work also illustrate the added complexity and difficulties they create for project managers. For example, within a functional department it is common to find people with more homogenous backgrounds.
This means that the finance department is staffed with finance people. the marketing department is made up of marketers, and so on. On the other hand, most projects are constructed from special, cross-functional teams composed of representatives from each of the relevant functional depart- ver the last several years, we have conducted interviews with dozens of senior project managers in which we asked them a simple question: “What information were you never given as a novice project manager that, in retrospect, could have made your job easier? From the data gathered in these interviews. we have synthesized some of the more salient issues, outlined in Figure 1 and detailed below, that managers need to keep in mind when undertaking a project implementation effort. While not intended to appear in any particular order, these 12 rules offer a useful way to understand the challenge project managers face and some ways to address these concerns. 0 Figure 1 Twelve Points to Remember 1
. Understand the context of project management. 2. Recognize project team conflict as progress. Understand who the stakeholders are and what they want : Accept and use the political nature of organizations. 5. Lead from the front. 6. Understand what “success“ means. 7. Build and maintain a cohesive team. Enthusiasm and despair are both infectious. $1 One look forward is worth two looks back. 10. Remember what you are trying to do. If. Use time carefully or it will use you. 12. Above all, plan, plan, plan. 1. Understand the context of project management. Much of the difficulty in t~ecoming an effective project nlanagcr lies in understanding the particular challenges project managenient presents in most corporations.
Projects are ;I unique form of organizational work, playing an important role within many public and private organizations today. They act 21smechanisms for the effective introduction of new products and services. They offer ;I level of intraorganizational efficiency that all companies seek hut few find. Hut they also force managers to operate in a temporary environment outside the traditional fimctiond lines of authority, relying upon influence mcl other informal methocls of power. problem-solving. On the other hand, n;haterer approach is selected should not be the result of ;I knm-jerk reaction to suppress conflict.
In our experience, we have found many cxamplcs that show that even though a conflict is pushed IXlow the surface, it will continue to fester if left unaddressed. The resulting eruption, uhich will inevitably occur kiter in the project developn~ent cycle, will have a far stronger eflrct than wo~dd the original conflict if it had heen handled initially. 3. Understand who the stakeholders are and what they want. Project management is a halancing act. It requires nianqgers to juggle the various and often conflicting deniands of a nunil~er of powerful project stakeholders.
One of the best tools :I project manager can use is to develop ;I realistic ;issessment early in the project identifying the principal stakeholders and their agendas. In some projects, p;irticularly those n,ith important external clients or constituent groups, the numtm of stakehokers may he quite large. particularly n+cn “intcrtenor” groups are incluclecl. Inter~enors, accortling to Cleland (19X3), may include any exterml gfo~lp that can clrastically :Lffect the potential foi project success, such as environnicntal activists in 3 nuclear pl:mt construction project.
Project managers who acknowledge the impact of stakeholders and work to minimize their effect hy fostering good r&tions vith them are often more s~~ccc’s. + ful than those who operate in ;I reactive mode. continually surprised hy unexpected dem:incls from groups that were not initi:illy considcrcd. As ;I final point about stakeholclers, it is important for 2 project manager‘s morale to remember that it is essentidly impossitde to ple:~se dl the stakeholders all the time. The conflicting nature of their demands suggests that Lvhen one group is happy. nother is prolxildy upset. Project managers neccl to forget the idea of maximizing everyone’s h;ippiness 3rd concentr:Nc instead on maintaining s:itisfzQwy relations that ~ittocv them to do their jot, with 3 ininimum of external intcr- In essence. it is not sini- ply the management of a project per se that pre sents such ;I unique challenge; it is also the dimsphere within lvhich the manager operates that adds an extl’:i dimension of difficulty. Projects exist outside the estd,lished hierarchy. They threaten, rather than support, the status quo because they represent change.
So it is important for project managers to Lvalk into their :Issigned role with their eyes wide open to the monumental nature of the tasks they are likely to face. 2. Recognize project team conflict as progress. One of the conmon responses of project managers to team conflict is panic. This reaction is understmdatAe in that project mmagers pcrccivcusually correctly-that their reputation and c:lreers are on the line if the project fails. Consequently, any evidence they interpret as dainaging to the prospects of project s~iccc’ss, such ~1steam conflict. represents ;i very real source of anxiety. In reality. owever, these interpersonal tensions are a natural result of putting individuals from diverse Ixlckgrounds together and requiring them to coordinate their activities. Conflict, as evdented hy the stages of gr0~1p tlevelopnient, is more often a sign of healthy maturation in the group. The result of differentiation among functional clepartnicnts clenionstrates that conflict under these circumstances is not only possible tmt unavoidable. One of the worst mistakes a project manager cm make when conflicts emerge is to immediately force them below the surface without first analyzing the nature of the conflict.
Although many interpersonal conflicts are based on personality differences, others are of 3 professional nature and should be addressed head-on. Once a project manager has analyzed the nature of the conflict among tezn niembers, ~1 variety of conflict handling approaches may be w:irranted, including avoidance, &fusion. or ference. 4. Accept the political nature of organizations and use it to your advantage. Like it or not, we exist in a politicized world. LJnfortunately, our corporations are no different.
Important decisions involving resources are made through bargaining and deal-making. So project marqers who wish to succeed must learn to use the political system to their advantage. This involves I3ecoming adept at negotiation ~1swell ~1s using influence tactics to further the goals of the project. At the same time, it is important to remember that any project representing possible organizational change is threatening, often because of its potential to reshuffle the power relationships among the key units and actors. Playing the political system simply acknowledges this reality.
Successful project managers are those who can llse their personal reputations, power, and influence to ensure cordial relations with important stakeholders and secure the resources necessary to smooth the client’s adoption of the project. Pursuing a middle ground of political sensibility is the key to project implenlen~ti[~n success. There are two alternative and equally inappropriate approaches to navigating a firm’s poiitical waters: becoming overly political and predatory-we call these people “sharks”-and refusing to engage in politics to any degree-the politically “naive. Political sharks and the politically naive are at equal disadvtmtage in managing their projects: sharks because they pursue predatory and self-interested tactics that arouse distrust, and the naive because they insist on remaining above the fray, even at the cost of failing to attain and keep necessary resources for their projects. Figure 2 illustrates some of the philosophical differences among the three types of political actors. The process of developing and applying appropriate political tactics means using politics as it can most effectively be used: as a basis for negotiation and bargaining. Politically sensible” implies being politically sensitive to the concerns (real or imagined) of powerful stakeholder groups. Legitimate or not, their concerns over a new project are real and must be addressed. Politically sensible managers understand that initiating any sort of organizational disruption or change by developing a new project is bound to reshuffle the distribution of power within the firm. That effect is likely to make many departments and managers very nervous as they begin to wonder how the future power relationships will be rearranged.
Appropriate political tactics and behavior include making alliances with powerful members of other stakeholder departments, networking, negotiating m~ltually acceptable solutions to seemingly insoluble problems. and recognizing that most organizational activities are predicated on the give-and-take of negotiation and compromise. It is through these uses of political behavior that managers of project implementation efforts put themselves in the position to most effectively influence the successful introduction of their systems. 5. Lead from the front; the view is better.
One message that comes through loud and clear is that project management is a “leader intensive” Lessonsf0t’an ACCidental Profession I Figure 2 Characteristics of Political Behaviors T SW Vk. S Politics is unpleasant Iuteuf Politics is necessary Further departmental goals Network; expand connections; use system to give and receive f2vctrs Politics is 3n opportunity Self-serving predatory and Avoid ;lt all costs Tell it like it is Mmipulate; use fraucl and deceit when necessary Favorite Tactics None-the truth will win out Negotiate txugain Bully; misuse information; cultivate and use “friends” and other contacts I I undertaking.
Strong, effective leaders can go a long way toward helping a project succeed even in the face of a number of external or unforeseen problems. Conversely, a poor, inflexible leader can often ruin the chances of many important projects ever succeeding. Leaders are the focal point of their projects. They serve as a rallying point for the team and are usually the major source of information and c~~mtnLlnication for external stakeholders. Because their role is so central and so vital, it is important to recognize and cultivate the attributes project ‘+leaders” must work to develop. The essence of leadership lies in our ability to use it flexibly.
This means that not all subordinates or situations merit the same response. Under some circL~l~~stancesan autocratic approach is appropriate; other situations will be far better served by adopting a consensual style. Effective project leaders seem to understand this idea intuitively. Their approach must be tailored to the situation; it is self-defeating to attempt to tailor the situation to a preferred approach. The worst leaders are those who are unaware of or indifferent to the freedom they have to vary their leadership styles. And they see any situation in which they must involve subordinates as inherently threatening to their authority.
As a result, they usually operate under what is called the “Mushroom Principle of Management. ” That is, they treat their subordinates the same way they would raise a crop of mushrooms-by keeping them in the dark and feeding them a steady diet of manure. Flexible leadership behavior consists of a realistic assessment of personal strengths and weaknesses. It goes without saying that no one person, including the project manager, possesses 45 “The intended user of the project is the major determinant of its success. u all necessary information, knowledge, or expcrtise to perform the project tasks on his own.
Rather, successful project managers usudly acknowledge their limitations and work through sul~orclinates’ strengths. In sei? ling 21s 2 fncilit:itor, one of the essential abilities of 3n exceptional project manager is knowing vherc to go to seek the right help and how to ask the right qiicstions. Ol~~~iously. the act of effective questioning is easier said than clone. Ho~vever, bear in mind that questioning is not interrogation. Good questions challcng:e sulwrdinates without putting them on the spot; they encourI :ge definite answers rather than xxgue responses. and they discourage guessing.
The leader’s job is to probe, to require sulmrdinatcs to consider all mglcs and options. mcl to support them in nlaking reasoned decisions. Direct involvement is 2 key component of ;I leader’s aldity to perform these tzsks. 6. Understand what “success” means. forth. Certainly, these aspects of the project iniplenient:ition process are necessary, but they should not IX confused with the ultimate determinant of success: the client. 7. Build and maintain a cohesive team. Successful project implementation is no longer sul,ject to the traditional “triple constraint. “ That is. he days when projects were evaluated solely on adherence to I~udgct. schecl~ile, and performance criteria are past. In modern business. with its increased emphasis on customer satisfaction. we have to retrain project nimagers to expand their criteria for project s~~ccc’ss to include :I fourth item: client use and satisfaction. What this suggests is that project “s~~ccess” is 2 far more comprehensive word than some managers may have initially thought. The implication for rewads is also important. Within some organizations that regularly implement projects, it is conmm practice to reward the implementation nunager when, in reality. nly half the jot3 has Iwzn ~~ccomplished. In other words, giving managers promotions and commendations before the project has been successfully transferred to clients, is Iwing used, and is affecting org:tnizational effectiveness is wriously jumping the gun. Any project is only as good :IS it is ~~secl. In the final analysis, nothing else matters if :I system is not productively employecl. Consequently, every effort must be bent toward ensuring that the system fits in with client needs. that their concerns and opinions arc‘ solicited and listened to, and that they have final sign-off approvd on the transferred project.
In other words, the intended user of the project is the major determinant of its success. Traditionally, the hulk of the team’s efforts are centered internally, mainly on their own concerns: budgets. timetables. and so Many projects are implemented through the use of cross-functional teams. I>eveloping and maintaining corcli:d team relations 2nd fostering 3 healthy intergroup atmosphere often seems like ;I full-time job for most project managers. Hovevcr. the resultant p:iyoff from 2 cohcsivc project team cannot 1~2 overestimated.
When ;I team is chqecl to work toaard project clevclopmcnt and implementation, the healthier the atmosphere within that team, the greater the likelihood the team will perform cffcctively. The project manager’s joh is to do whatever is necess:uy to build and maintain the he:iltli (cohesion) of the team. Sometimes that support can be accomplishetl hy periodically checking T-ith team memlwrs to determine their attitudes and satisfaction Lvith the process. Other times the project manager may have to resort to less conventional methods, such ~1s throwing parties or organizing field trips.
To effectively intervene and support ;I team, project managers play :I wiety of roles–movitator. coach, cheerleader. peacemaker, confict resolver. All these duties ;lrc: appropriate for creating 2nd maintaining an effective team. 8. Enthusiasm infectious. and despair are both One of the niore interesting aspects of project leaders is that they often function like miniaturized hillt~oards. projecting an image and attitude that signals the current status of the project and its likelihood for SLKCCSS. The team takes its cue from the attitudes and emotions the manager exhil3its.
So one of the most important roles of the leader is that of motivator 3incl encourager. The worst project managers are those who play their cuds close to their chests, revealing little or nothing alwut the status of the project (again, the “Mushroom Manager”). Team members want and dese~e to IX kept abreast of what is happening. It is important to remember that the success or f:dure of the project affects the team 2s well 2s the manager. Rather than allowing the rumor tnill to churn out tlisinfi~rm~~tion, team leaders need to function 3s honest sources of information.
When team niembcrs come to the project manager for advice or project updates, it is important to be honest. If the manager does not know the answw to their questions, he should tell them that. Truth in all forms is recognizalAe, and most project team tnenil~ers are much more appreciative of honesty than of eyewash. 9. One look forward is worth two looks back. A recent series of commercials from a large computer manufacturer had as their slogan the dictum that the company never stop asking “What if? ” Asking “What if? ” questions is another way of saying we should never become comfortable with the status of the project under development.
One large-scale study found that the leading determinant of project failure was the absence of any troubleshooting mechanisms-that is, no one was asking the “What if! ‘” questions. Projecting a skeptical eye toward the future may seem gloomy to some managers. But in our opinion, it makes good sense. We cannot control the future but we can actively control our response to it. A good example of the failure to apply this philosophy is evidenced by the progress of the “Chunnel” intended to link Great Britain with France. Although now in ull operation, it was not ready for substantial traffic until some 15 months later than originally scheduled. As a result, chunnel traffic missed the major summer vacation season with a concomitant loss in revenue. At the same time, the final cost (&15 billion) is likely to be six times the original estimate of 62. 3 billion (O’Connor 1993). It is instructive to take note of a recent statement by one of the project’s somewhat harassed directors who, when pressed to state when the Chunnel would be ready, replied, “Now it will be ready when it’s ready and not before! Clearly, the failure to apply adequate contingency planning has led to the predictable result: a belief that the project will simply end when it ends. aware of the specific contributions of other team members? If no, more attention needs to be paid to reestablishing a community sense of mission. 11. Use time carefully or it will use you. Time is a precious commodity. Yet when we talk to project managers, it seems that no matter how hard they work to budget it, they never have enough.
They need to make a realistic assessment of the “time killers” in their daily schedule: How are they spending their time and what are they doing profitably or unprofitably? We have found that the simple practice of keeping a daily time log for a short time can be an eye-opening experience. Many project managers discover that they spend far too much of their time in unproductive ways: project team meetings without agendas that grind on and on, unexpected telephone calls in the middle of planning sessions, quick “chats” with other managers that end up taking hours, and so forth.
Efficient time management-one of the keys to successful project development-starts with project managers. When they actively plan their days and stick to a time budget, they usually find they are operating efficiently. On the other hand, when they take each problem as it comes and function in an ad hoc, reactive mode, they are likely to remain prisoners of their own schedules. A sure recipe for finding the time and resources needed to get everything done without spending an inordinate amount of time on the job or construction site is provided by Gosselin (1993).
The author lists six practical suggestions to help project managers control their tasks and projects without feeling constantly behind schedule: l Create a realistic time estimate without overextending yourself. l Be absolutely clear about what the boss or client requires. l Provide for contingencies (schedule slippage, loss of key team member). l Revise the original time estimate and provide a set of options as required. l Be clear about factors that are fixed (specifications, resources, and so on). l Learn to say “Yes, and ,” rather than “No, but. ” Negotiation is the key. 12. Above all, plan, 10. Remember what you are trying to do. Do not lose sight of the purpose behind the project. Sometimes it is easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of the development process, fighting fires on a daily basis and dealing with thousands of immediate concerns. The danger is that in doing so, project managers may fail to maintain a view of what the end product is supposed to be. This point reemphasizes the need to keep the mission in the forefront-and not just the project manager, but the team as well.
The goal of the implementation serves as a large banner the leader can wave as needed to keep attitudes and motives focused in the right direction. Sometimes a superordinate goal can serve as a rallying point. Whatever technique project managers use, it is important that they understand the importance of keeping the mission in focus for all team members. A simple way to discover whether team members understand the project is to intermittently ask for their assessment of its status. They should know how their contributions fit into the overall installation plan. Are they Lessons for an Accidental Profession lan, Plan- The essence of efficient project management is to take the time to get it as right as possible the first 47 time. “It” includes the schedule, the team composition, the project specifications, and the budget. There is a truism that those who fail to plan are planning to fail. One of the practical difficulties with planning is that so many of LISdistinguish it from other aspects of the project development, such as doing the work. Top managers are often particularly guilty of this offense as they wait impatiently for the project manager to begin doing the work.
Of course, too much planning is guaranteed to elicit repeated and pointed questions from top management and other stakeholders as they seek to discover the reason why “nothing is being done. ” Experienced project managers, though, know that it is vital not to rush this stage by reacting too quickly to top management inquiries. The planning stage must be managed carefully to allow the project manager and team the time necessary to formulate appropriate and workable plans that will form the basis for the development process. Dividing up the tasks and starting the “work” of the project too quickly is often ultimately wasteful.
Steps that were poorly clone are often steps that must be redone. A complete and full investigation of any proposecl project does take significant time ancl effort. However, bear in mind that overly elaborate or intricate planning can he cletrimental to a project; by the time an opportunity is fully investigated, it may no longer exist. Time and again we have emphasized the importance of planning, but it is also apparent that there comes a limit, both to the extent and the time frame of the planning cycle. A survey among entrepreneurs, for example, revealed that only 28 percent of them drew ~112a frill-scale plan (Sweet 1994).
A lesson here for project managers is that, like entrepreneurs, they must plan, but they must also be smart enough to recognize mistakes and change their strategy accordingly. As is noted in an olcl military slogan, “No plan ever survives its first contact with the enemy. ” PROJECT MANAGERS IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY Through the 90’s and into the 21st century, project-based management will sweep aside traditional functional line management and (almost) all organizations will adopt flat, flexible organizational structures in place of the old bureaucratic hierarchies. Nlew organizational structures are replacing the old. [Mlandgers will use project-based management as a vehicle for introducing strategic planning and for winning and maintaining competitive advantage. Turner presents quite a rosy future, one that is predicated on organizations recognizing the changes they are currently undergoing and are likely to continue to see in the years ahead. In this challenging environment, project management is emerging as a technique that can provide the competitive edge necessary to succeed, given the right manager.
At the same time, there seems to have been a sea change in recent years regarding the image of project managers. The old view of the project manager as essentially that of a decision maker, expert, boss, ancl director seems to be giving way to a newer ideal: that of a leader, coach, and facilitator. Lest the reader ;iss~iiiw these duties are any easier, we w-o~llcl assert that anyone who has attempted to perform these roles knows from personal experience just how difficult they can he.
As part of this metamorphosis, says Clarke (1993), the new breed of project manager must be a natural salesperson who can establish harmonious customer (client) relations and develop trusting relationships with stakehoklers. In ad& tion to some of the obvious keys to project managers’ success-personal commitment. energy. and enthusiasm-it appears that. most of all, s~~ccessf~il project managers must manifest an olwious desire to see others succeecl. For successful project managers, there will always he a dynamic tension between the twin deniands of technical training and an unclerstancling of human resource needs.
It must he clearly unclerstood, however, that in assessing the relative importance of each challenge, the focus must clearly be on managing the human side of the process. As research and l>rdctice consistently clenionstrate, project management is primarily a challenge in managing people. This point was recently- brought to light in an excellent review of a book on managing the “human sicle” of projects (Homer 1993 ): There must 1~ many project managers like me who come from a technological background, and who suffer4 an educa~ tion which left them singularly ill-prepared to manage people.
I n our research and consulting experiences, we constantly interact c-ith project managers. some with many years of experience, who express their frustration with their organizations because of the lack of detailecl explication of their assigned tasks ant1 responsibilities. Year after year, manager after manager, companies continue to make the same mistakes in “training” their project managers, Lisually through an almost ritualizecl baptism of fire, I-‘roject managers clese17e better. Accorc1ing to Koclney Turner (1993), editor of the I? 2t~rrl~~tio~2~~l,~~i~~~~~ll [email protected] /bl~lrlu~emellt:
Leading researchers and scholars perceive the twenty-first century as the upcoming age of project management. The globablization of markets, the merging of many European economies, the enhanced expenditures of money on capital improvement both in the United States and abroad, the rapidly opening borders of Eastern European and Pacific Rim countries, with their goals of rapid infrastructure expansion-all of this offers an eloquent argument for the enhanced popularity of project management as a technique for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of organizational operations.
With so much at stake, it is vital that we immediately begin to address some of the deficiencies in our project management theory and practice. Project management techniques are well known. But until we are able to take further steps toward formalizing training by teaching the necessary skill set, the problems with efficiently developing, implementing, and gaining client acceptance for these projects are likely to continue growing. There is currently a true window of opportunity in the field of project mdnagement.
Too often in the past, project managers have been forced to learn their skills the hard way, through practical experience coupled with all the problems of trial and error. Certainly, experience is a valuable component of learning to become an effective project manager, but it is by no means the best. attempting to better understand the nature of their unique challenge and methods for performing more effectively. Too many organizations pay far too little attention to the process of selecting, training, and encouraging those people charged to run project teams.
The predictable result is to continually compound the mistake of creating wave after wave of accidental project managers, forcing them to learn through trial and error with minimal guidance in how to perform their roles. Managing projects is a challenge that requires a strategy and methodology all its own. Perhaps most important, it requires a project manager willing to function as a leader in every sense of the term. We have addressed a wide range of challenges. both contextual and personal, that form the basis under which projects are managed in today’s organizations.
It is hoped that readers will find something of themselves as well as something of use contained in these pages. 0 References U. N. Uaker, P. C. Murphy, and D. Fisher, “Factors Affecting Project Success,” in D. I. Cleland and W. R. King, eds. , Project Maizagement Ha22dhoob (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. 1983): 778-801. W hat conclusions are to 1~ drawn here? If nothing else, it is certain that we have painted a portrait of project management as a complex, time-consuining, often exasperating process. At the same time, it is equally clear that successful project managers are a breed apart.
To answer the various calls they continually receive. balance the conflicting demands of a diverse set of stakeholders, navigate tricky corporate political waters, understand the fundamental process of subordinate motivation. develop and constantly refine their leadership skills, and engage in the thousands of pieces of detailed minutiae while keeping their eyes fixed firmly on project goals requires individuals Lvith special skills and personalities. Given the nature of their duties, is it any wonder successful project managers are in such short supply and, once identified, so valued by their organizations?
There is good news, however. Many of these skills, though difficult to master. can be learned. Project management is a challenge, not a mystery. Indeed. it is our special purpose to demystify much of the human side of project management, starting with the role played by the linchpin in the process: the project manager. The problem in the past has been too few sources for either seasoned or novice project managers to turn to in 11.