The rationalizing of the Project Manager’s role & responsibilities has somehow both improved & hindered some of the key aspects of project management.
Indeed, an emphasis on the project management community to develop further common values has been made over the last decades. A framework of trainings is generally thought through at corporate levels.
On the positive side, such source of culture has enabled lately to build mobility bridges for Project Managers (PM) within the companies, from one BU to another.
On a less positive side, the PM role has become more constrained, to the detriment of the whole company.
The PM's healthy disrespect of the hierarchical ladder:
The specific aspect of the PM culture relies on the network the PM has within a company. Indeed, beyond his central role focusing on project execution, the PM has a more informal role that is strategically key at the level of the enterprise: the PM acts inside the company as the customer representative and thus, must work with any required hierarchical levels in order to pursue a positive achievement of his project(s).
The PM function is in the center of the matrix organization. The PM is naturally linked to all other functions of the company through his project team members and stakeholders influencing the result of his project. The density of his network and its eventual redundancy are generally relatively high, enabling the PM to lobby through different ways key players or decision-makers.
It allows also the company to minimize the structural holes and silo-effects that exist between functions. As such, only the Quality function has the same opened approach as the Project Management function. Functions like Finance & HR share also information transversally but are constrained by the confidential aspects of the content they give. However, compared with Quality, Project Management benefits from the fact that it is closer from the decision-making process, if not part of it, when Quality is more reactive a posteriori (not always though).
In fact, the PM network is composed of 2 sub-networks. First, the clique part of his network allows the PM to motivate his team through efficient cooperation & loyalty. Therefore, this is the part of his network that may foster groupthink, a behavior detrimental to the team itself as it may shut it from its environment.
Second, the “entrepreneurial” part of his network grants the PM with high autonomy & flexibility and helps him to obtain from remote stakeholders the necessary decisions. Indeed, through the management of the weak ties of his network, the PM can often defuse critical situations or persuade part of the business to perform in accordance to the project execution plan. Yet, the effect of such persuasion may be reduced by the uncertainty of the payoffs for the stakeholders. Such networks, balancing affiliation with efficiency ensure that the PM knows a wide range of people through diverse parts of the company.
Innovation & the PM:
Most difficulties encountered during the project execution result from the inadequacy between what the firm must do (i.e. its contractual obligations) and what it can do (i.e. its operational efficiency). Therefore, the PM finds himself in the obligation to look for different ways to achieve his goal through trials & errors. Thus, the PM may find himself ahead of the majority of the company, even though he might only have fostered the innovation within the firm through seeking advices and other influential tactics but not being the innovator himself. As such, the role of PM becomes one of a broker for new ideas.
The PM role is one of leadership:
- First, to make his project(s) a success, a PM has to use almost constantly the organization structure of his company as a tool. Clearly, a good PM will be recognized not about the position he is in but how he acts in it.
- Second, a good PM knows where his team stands, where he wants it to be and how to bridge that gap. Building a tactical, step-by-step action plan based on a strong team-awareness, implying a high degree of introspection, is the only way to acquire this knowledge.
- Third, a good PM prevents delays in decision-making, at any level of the organization, as it is, most certainly, the largest source of mishaps in project management.
- Fourth, he understands the complexity of his project as well as the structural complexity of his company and communicates about it, reinforcing his place as a leader.
- Finally, he empowers his project team to set deeper within it a common culture of achievement.
It is through his vision & implementation of his execution strategy, not only made introspectively with his team but also by integrating the rest of the company’s behavior and structure, that a PM reduces the complexity, the risks and the ambiguity surrounding the project and realigns what can be done with what must be done. Through this implementation, the PM searches for the optimization of congruence between the project goals, the key project players, and the company’s organization and culture.
To perform that well, the PM must have learnt how to lead by taking care of individual relationships (including with his team, manager and peers). He has to use actively politics and influence to drive changes (of mentality and in processes) in order to align his strategy and the means he owns with his objectives.
A PM manages only the processes imposed on him by the controlling entities: project reviews, people reviews, … In fact a PM does not manage very much. As whenever safe routine kicks in, he delegates and turns away to more pressing, riskier & unsettled affairs. If it is on tracks, he is not interested. Project Management is an oxymoron. Indeed, why would you need a PM if everything’s under control?