Is there anything wrong with an alpha project manager?

alphaMultiple articles have been written about the evils of being a weak project manager. The unwillingness of such individuals to challenge poor decisions, to confront unhealthy conflict, or to shield their team members from unnecessary interference impacts team morale, forces other stakeholders to step in to keep projects on track and reduces the overall value derived from the projects managed by such project managers.

When we witness such challenges, it is tempting to think that there’s no ceiling on how strong a project manager should be. But is that a valid assertion? Is there anything wrong with being an alpha project manager?

Let’s start with projectized organizations. Are there any impacts of a strong project manager doing their utmost to secure and sustain funding for their project in such a company – sounds like just what they should be doing, right?

But what if the opportunity cost to the organization of continued investment in their project is a greater issue than pulling the plug? In such cases, even if the project manager has stuck to using only healthy politics and influence to sway funding decisions in support of their project, they haven’t done the organization any long term favors.

And what of the scenario where there is a very strong project manager whose peers are of average capability?

Assuming the alpha project manager is willing to coach and guide the others, this might be just what’s needed to raise organizational project management capability, but what happens if they are territorial and don’t want competition. This situation could end up demoralizing other project managers resulting in an increased likelihood of attrition.

Projectized organizations are the exception, not the norm, so what risks might an alpha project manager present in matrix organizations?

While one can be considered a strong project manager based on one’s influence to forge and sustain positive, productive working relationships with functional managers, if the line between persuasion and bullying gets crossed, the project manager might succeed in the short term, but is unlikely to earn the respect and support from these managers required for them to be successful in the long term.

Finally, in a company operating at a low level of organizational project management maturity, an alpha project manager might sufficiently frighten stakeholders that he or she sets back the pace of capability improvement by a year or two.

In general, it is much better to be a strong project manager than a weak one, but how that strength is manifested needs to be commensurate with the needs of the project and the culture of the organization.

“Strength is the capacity to break a Hershey bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces.” – Judith Viorst

Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A menagerie of project management myths

mythsThose of us who have been managing projects for a few years seem to run into the following myths and misconceptions on a sufficiently frequent basis that I felt it might be of value to consolidate and publish a few of them.

Project management competency is about learning tools and techniques

As with any other profession there are hard skills which need to be acquired to claim competency, but soft skills trump hard skills in project management every day of the week which ends in “day“.

Planning is everything

Yes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail, but organizations don’t invest in projects to deliver infinitely detailed plans. Delivering business value in a predictable, consistent manner is the true value of project management.

The right PMIS will solve everything!

Did we learn nothing from the legacy of failed CRM, ERP and other enterprise applications? Automation makes a broken process break faster, so make sure you have defined, repeatable processes before purchasing and implementing a project management tool.

The squeakiest wheel needs greasing first

Stakeholders often follow Teddy Roosevelt’s advice to “Speak softly and carry a big stick“. If your focus is on the loudest stakeholder, you might end up making a detractor of a quiet, but highly influential one.

Certification is crucial

There are many qualified, competent project managers who are not certified along with many unqualified, incompetent practitioners who are. On top of that, just because someone is competent at managing one type of project within one organization doesn’t mean they will be successful at doing so in another or in a different domain. Caveat emptor.

Agile only applies to software or systems projects

Agile is a philosophy which can be applied to almost any project. Agile methodologies (e.g. Scrum) are relevant to specific project domains.

The PMBOK is a methodology

PMI’s PMBOK is a body of knowledge. The PMBOK Guide is a document containing a subset of the PMBOK. Neither are methodologies.

Changes to scope are to be avoided at all costs

Scope creep is bad. Managed scope change through reprioritization or formal change control is an expected outcome of the uncertainty present on all projects.

I’ll close this week’s article with what I believe is the greatest myth of project management: lessons learned.

Need I say more?

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Are you an enabler of bad project habits?

imageOn occasion, you may have found yourself asking “If only my team members would do what I asked them to, I’d be able to spend time on more value add activities?”

Perhaps you are asking your team members to provide you with regular updates on the completion status of their assigned work. One of them neglects to provide this information by the requested deadline.
Being a collaborative project manager, you’ll meet with them to confirm that they understand the expected reporting timelines and may even ask them if there’s anything you can do to simplify the process so that expectations won’t be missed in the future. If nothing changes, you may commence nagging them or even escalate to their people manager in the hopes that things will improve. At some point, you may simply give up and start guess-timating how far along they are and using that instead of true actuals.

All that we have done is encourage a continuation of the behavior we were hoping to change.

Nagging or escalation will cause a good team member to disengage and estimating progress without their direct input will eventually come back to haunt you when other team members realize they can get away with this, or worse, your estimated progress reporting is proven to be wrong.

Hindsight is 20-20. Having the team members as a group define the best way to report progress such that it wouldn’t impact their work while still meeting your reporting requirements might have avoided the current challenge. In that case, instead of you having to confront a team member for not adhering to your rules, you can engage the team in holding one of their own accountable to their rules.

But all is not lost – you can still use the same approach. In the next team meeting, let them know that some team members are struggling with the reporting requirements. Acknowledge the effort it takes to do this but also use it as an opportunity to refresh their understanding of how this information gets used and why it is so critical to have it provided accurately and in a timely manner. Show them a recent project status report or dashboard so they can see it live. Then, step back, and ask them to come up with ways to improve the process.

By involving the full team in the development of a solution, you will increase team members’ engagement and they are likely to demonstrate greater ownership of such administrative activities in the future.

When we point the finger at others, many times, the issue lies in the direction which the remaining fingers are pointing to.

Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Process Peeves, Project Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Blog at The Adventure Journal Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 300 other followers

%d bloggers like this: