What is the foundation for your leadership’s strength?
Recently there was a splash in the news about someone whose leadership is based in fear. People were informed that their jobs were on the line if they sided with facts and science over statements – true or not – based on the source of those statements.
If that person’s leadership is founded on fear of consequences if crossed there will continue to be strongly worded editorials and quietly expressed concern about the impact this will have.
So what is your leadership founded on?
KSP’s leadership driven project management is founded on the principle that leadership of any project team can be based on many different things. We suggest a basis of mutual trust and the establishment of safety will, in the end, be more productive – and therefore more profitable – than a basis of fear and negative consequences.
A common cause for resource conflict lies in understanding the answer to a deceptively simple question: how much is enough?
A staff member may become an overachiever in an attempt to please his or her boss, or to satisfy their own pride by applying ‘more’ to a project than it deserves.
An electrical engineer may try to make an amplifier “just a bit more sensitive,” or an IT specialist may keep working to get a few more messages per second out of a processor. These are both examples of work that doesn’t deliver any appreciable benefit to the company.
A good project manager must know when to push for more performance and when to stop and move onto the next activity. This type of judgement call is how organizations’ financial and marketplace health either thrive or start a downward spiral.
Measurements and metrics offer everyone clear guidelines for balancing project objectives.
When you offer clear and specific metrics, you enhance the project designer’s ability to develop a project plan that supports the organization.
A favorite framework that accommodates the iterative approach of Agile or Scrum lays out three achievement levels for organizational or project objectives. These include: minimum, target, and stretch metrics as defined below:
Minimum acceptable metrics tell project designers the lowest acceptable value for an objective. They may drop to this measurement under pressure to achieve balance in other areas. By definition, if the project or product cannot meet this minimum criterion, the project should be rejected or abandoned.
The target metric represents the strategic plan’s goals for the area. Once this target is achieved, project designers can focus on other areas. The target metric is the normal, steady-state metric portfolio and project designers should attempt to achieve it.
Stretch metrics are objectives the organization strives to achieve to capture innovative ideas or unplanned opportunities. Frequently, these may represent upper limits that the project designer should not exceed to prevent overloading the resource pool. Achieving stretch metrics should not be the norm. If every project designer attempted to achieve stretch metrics, resource shortages would impair the chances of strategic success.
This model can be employed for all of the categories of objectives: schedule, cost, resource, technical, and quality.
Establishing a framework for balanced objectives allows you to distribute resources based on strategic direction, keeping the entire organization moving ahead.
A company has only so many resources. A good project manager ensures that resources saved in one area are more effectively used in another.
While the Project Manager oversees and manages the big picture, the Team Leader deals with the nuts and bolts. By being more involved in the day to day work, the Team Leader also develops a more direct knowledge of the personalities of both the team members and the outside sources and conditions that may positively or negatively impact the end product.
Having had the experience of working in both positions in a large corporation, I can speak with some confidence as to the differences and similarities between the two.
As a team leader I was an integral, working member of the team. I was their first “line of defense” and the buffer between them and the project manager and the stakeholders. It was my job to keep them on track, to praise when needed and to escalate issues when it appeared deliverables may be impacted. I felt it was very important, particularly as a woman in a technical field at that time, to maintain a “just one of the guys” attitude with my team. This made it easier for them to be comfortable coming to me with issues. It was my responsibility to make sure the issues were escalated to the Project Manager and also to suggest possible ways in which they could be resolved and determine the cost, if any, associated with those resolutions.
I knew the strengths and weaknesses of each of my team members. Who would enjoy and excel at a knotty problem. Who could quickly crank out code. Who got bored once a solution was found and was then eager to go to the next challenge. Who hid their lack of confidence by using jargon in meetings with the stakeholders. With this knowledge I could juggle and monitor assignments to allow them to excel in their tasks, increasing the likelihood for overall project success.
By knowing and treating the team members as individuals, as people, the team developed a tightly knit bond which was evident in their production.
As a team leader I was still able to remain “in the trenches”, helping with debugging, overseeing testing, and picking up some coding when needed.
Once in the Project Manager role my concentration was on the bigger picture of the entire project’s progress. The Team Leader dealt with the “nuts and bolts” and had more one-on-one contact with each member of the team. While I relied on the Team Leader to identify issues and escalate them to me, it was ultimately my responsibility to make sure the team had what was needed to keep the project moving in a positive direction, whether it was answers from another area or additional personnel.
Sometimes a Project Manager may not have the hands on skill set that a Team Leader most likely has and as a result needs to rely on the Team Leader’s knowledge of the team’s makeup and the individuals’ strengths and weaknesses. Developing trust and confidence in the Team Leader is crucial to a successful project.
Returning to the earlier question of how do they relate? Using a very simplified football analogy, the Team Leader is the quarterback and the Project Manager is the head coach. Both must exhibit leadership to different degrees and in different areas to lead the team to success.
Aligning projects with organizational objectives seems like a basic practice, really kind of intuitive, right? And yet, how many organizations do or even encourage it?
It seems odd on the surface given that we easily understand that badly aligned tires on our vehicles can cost us fuel, create steering struggles, not to mention causing damage to the tires.
Is it because people don’t always understand how the misalignment of any project from its objectives affects a company? As with the tire analogy, misaligned projects waste valuable resources and wear out staff. The metaphor falls apart once we think about how people are not tires. Let’s face it – tires can be replaced without having to re-engineer the car. People leaving? It can cost companies a lot more than just money. Think of the institutional knowledge that they take with them and the work delays while you’re trying to find and hire their replacement.
Your organization is a suite of systems, structures, people and processes all operating at multiple levels simultaneously. Cultural, political, regulatory, financial, technical, and social considerations need to be carefully coordinated to keep everything headed in the right direction.
Alignment can get even more complicated when pet or political projects are pushed forward without clear and measurable organizational benefit.
Conflicting organizational objectives can also make it worse. Think about how the Sales department’s objectives might be different from Manufacturing’s goals, and how Accounting may disagree with both. And let’s face it, even the most dedicated folks are faced with distractions as daily or weekly activities wield the tyranny of the urgent rather than importance. Higher-level organizational activities should be getting their attention, but how?
Then there is the in-fighting, political positioning, and the everlasting struggle for resources – both human and physical – that interfere with even the most capable of project leaders.
But, and bear with me, here’s the thing. A measure of in-fighting and the battles for project positioning can be a good thing if managed well. Setting up inter-divisional competition can be a very effective way of keeping managers bringing forth their best while moving towards project alignment and organizational goals.
Regardless of how you generate new ideas or a better portfolio structure, successful project alignment relies on a minimum of these six factors:
Balanced, comprehensive objectives
Specific, long term objectives (you know, more than a year, durable through changes because it’s based on the cultural values)
Environmental and organizational assumptions
An organization that focuses on these factors is well on the way to becoming a more productive company and radically reducing wasted time, talent, and finances.
Your Image and Its Effect on Good Project Leadership Focus
Project managers (PM) have an image problem. Many projects managers come out of the disciplines they now manage. Engineers become project managers of engineering projects. Systems architects become project managers of computer projects. They used to be subject matter experts (SMEs), but now they’re not. Now they manage, they lead.
The thing is, a PM’s primary strength and value comes from staying above the day to day implementation and keeping a perspective on progress.
The PM is the wizard behind the curtain. She has to be able to see when a project is in trouble and correct it as quickly and completely as possible.
Loads of people believe a person with the birds-eye view of everything should have plenty of extra time to take on some of the project tasks. That may sound good in theory but it’s a terrible practice.
For one thing, the project manager cannot be a subject matter expert (SME) in all aspects of the project. PMs and their leadership teams have to realize where their values lie – in leading the team.
If he is both team leader and task owner, the PM is managing himself in addition to the rest of the team. Aside from the added work, doing this is like self-medication. It yields spotty leadership and higher possibilities of bad task performance. It’s a bad idea.
When the PM is performing project activities, time and focus are diverted from their primary role in the team. And a team without leadership has a greater chance of going off the rails.
But let’s move our focus from the team for a minute. A big part of a PM’s role is managing the communications and expectations of the stakeholder community.
This is one of the most challenging, time-consuming, and risky aspects of project management.
Executive management and a good project sponsor can help or hinder the project manager’s ability to successfully execute the management of stakeholder relationships. Well defined processes, a positive corporate culture, and early stakeholder engagement allow project managers to spend more of their time managing the project rather than dealing with conflicting stakeholder expectations.
So what to do?
Get your stakeholders identified and aligned fast. Get clear about what the key stakeholders – and that includes your executive sponsor! – expects. Check in with them because, well, change happens.
This way, you can keep a white-hot focus on managing the project and leading your team to success.