In the end, it was best to bite my lip

I was participating in a workshop of colleagues a few years ago when one of the attendees made a statement that took my breath away. Referring to our transformational projects, he said “we could all manage those projects because project management is just good management and we are all good managers.” I wish I had had the presence to make an appropriate retort like “we can all drive a Formula One car because we have passed a driving test” or “we can all teach because we have knowledge and a mouth”.

I must say that it has been better for me that I kept my mouth shut because the experience has caused me to think through the ways in which he was right but also why he was fundamentally wrong.

Of course good managers can:

  • Manage people as individuals, in teams and in meetings;
  • Set goals, create plans and drive progress;
  • Delegate without abdicating;
  • Facilitating decision-making and approval processes.

In those ways, he was right.

However at the core of my concern is a fundamental misunderstanding of what a project is. Most management is focused on managing operational (day-to-day) activities – areas in which the same process is repeated many times over. The role of the manager is to deliver quality outputs to time, cost and quantity.

Projects by their very nature have not been delivered before and therefore they are unpredictable. That is where good project and programme managers add value – in managing the delivery of an objective which is unpredictable.

Good project and programme managers:

  1. Focus on aligning benefits to deliverables and then to scope and approach.
  2. Create simple routines around the predictable to ensure energy is focused on handling the unpredictable.
  3. Create clarity of responsibilities so team members can focus on delivering what they do best.
  4. Have a love-hate relationship with risk. They love thinking about risks because that way they take action to ensure that they don’t happen.
  5. Read lessons learned to future projects.

One critical success factor for the successful delivery of important transformation projects is to use a proven project manager.

Andrew Kearns

Hartswood Management Ltd

Removing the roadblocks to delivering real improvement

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