For some of you, I have news: Project managers deliver value. If you are still stuck on achieving cope, schedule, and budget, you are destined to failure. As with all simple statements, this much easier said than done. Projects managers must assemble adaptable teams that use flexible and lean methodologies. Arrogantly selling the latest technology or tool is narcissistic. Focus on the customer. Be vigilant at ensuring the information is always available for the customer to reassess the project's value and for the project team to reevaluate their proposal.
Maintaining Project Value
The first task is determining the customer's initial value objective. Most projects start with the premise that they provide considerable value. However, numerous assumptions are made in justifying that value. Many of these ill-founded hopes fail to survive the test of time, being proven false in the early stages of the project. As we all know, time begets change. Realities adjust as the customer learns about the product's possibilities, business models morph, and challenges arise in building the product. The project must transform to meet these needs and the project manager must lead this shifting vision.
At times, it is more than a gradual shift. Elucidation of major difficulties, discovery of poorly understood requirements, and loss of business segments, name a few reasons to step back and reconsider the project's premise. The most radical change a project manager can propose is terminating the project. Once the projected value falls dangerously close to zero, the value proposition is invalid and the only sensible solution is ceasing the project. This is not failure. It is leadership at its finest.
Facilitating Increased Value
Value is the benefit less the cost. Costs are generally quantifiable; however, benefits are often intangible. Goodwill, trust, esthetics, and usability are but a few attributes that can add significant value to a deliverble. In addition to defining the project's cost, project managers must help the customer enumerate all of the benefits.
For the customer to define value, project managers must supply the information on how the product will or could function. There are no constraints to the original concept, added costs, thrown away work, or extensions to the delivery date. The task is to objectively deliver the complete story and let the customer decide the next step.
The project manager cannot say no to every change the customer requests. The PM has to understand gthe value of the deliverables as well if not more than the customer. He or she must work with the customer's team and help them create and maintain its vision, understand its issues, and guide it toward a solution that delivers a value-laden product in the shortest possible time at the least cost.
Grooming the Team
This does not come from sitting at your desk working with spreadsheets. It comes from understanding the businesses needs, the state of the deliverable, the team's capabilities, and the challenges of selling change.
Developing the customer's confidence and trust is the first step. A cohesive, agile, dynamic team is the primary ingredient in doing so. Integrating your team with the customer's, educating them on the customer's business, and immersing them in the customer's pain will drives success. This creates a responsive and customer focused team. It reduces the tendency of teams to build products with the latest gadgets that add little to the value.
Maintaining confidence is more difficult. This requires a culture and methodology that is adaptive. Too many times, we use draconian processes to manage projects—methodologies that strive for operational excellence as opposed to product excellence. Granted, some customers (i.e., healthcare, government, or military) require a thorough paper trail for every functional outcome, no matter how low its probability of occurrence. These are far from a majority of projects. Even in these projects, however, it is worth questioning the validity of the overhead and proposing new solutions.
On one government project we worked on progress was at a standstill as certain people on the project would not let contract resources give any direction citing that giving direction was an "inherently governmental" function. A little research and drilling down to the four-page Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Subpart 7.5-Inherently Governmental Functions" and you learn that once the plan is approved (this is inherantly governmental function) that a contractor can do any work to implement that plan, as the resources have been commited by a government employee. People learned the term "inherently governmental" through hearsay and had never read what it really meant. Hence, anyone could use it in any way they pleased—usually to their benefit. Clearing up the definition, broke the log jam and the project sailed forward.
Delivering a project's features and functions on time and within budget is incommensurate with a successful project and a happy customer. Dozens of environmental factors affect a project's value. Successful project managers carefully watch these factors and lead the customer through the process of discovery, defining appropriate changes that maximize their project's value. Losing sight of the project's value will inevitably result in failure.