The silver lining on the people management cloud of project-oriented structures

From the Easy in theory, difficult in practice Blog
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My musings on project management, project portfolio management and change management. I'm a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organizational change that addresses process & technology, but primarily, people will maximize chances for success. This blog contains articles which I've previously written and published as well as new content.

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While the relative level of formal authority vested in a project manager is greater in project-oriented (formerly projectized) organization structures than in matrix ones, the downside of this authority is that the project manager will spend much more time on people management administrative activities such as performance evaluations, hiring and supporting their professional development. While this is important work, it doesn't directly relate to the management of their projects and they might perceive it as a distraction.

In addition, in those organizations which are purely project-oriented (i.e. everything they do is project work with no functional or matrix structures to be found elsewhere within their walls), when projects end, if the team members who were contributing to them cannot be deployed to different projects then they may find themselves out of a job which is likely to stress their project managers even more at the very time when they are trying to line up other projects for themselves.

But there is a silver lining to this people management cloud.

Having these responsibilities will force the project manager to learn about the hopes, dreams and career aspirations of their direct reports. This should provide them with a greater ability to enable them to connect the team members' individual purposes to the success objectives of the project. They will also be better positioned to understand the competencies over which their staff wish to gain mastery which they can use to identify opportunities for personal development for these team members. Finally, even as project managers working in matrix structures will need to learn how to effective delegate, empowering their staff to work with autonomy is even more critical when there is a formal reporting relationship in place.

Project managers in project-oriented organizations might chafe at the additional responsibilities they have to shoulder, but these also give them more power to inspire their team members.

Posted on: August 11, 2019 07:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Kiron, could you please provide a real example of an existing projectized organization? I have had the opportunity to work for many organizations so far but I have never seen a projectized one. Even companies or parts of companies that perform most of their work activities as projects still have a functional structure and project management is a function among the other functions.

The closest I have seen to a projectized organization was when a very large company needed a major IT change. In these cases usually the organization hires a program or project director who reports directly to the CEO or to an executive and who controls to a large extent the budget. He/she then hires the people to do the work but the overwhelming majority of them are contractors or consultants and not employees of the company who needs the project. Some times consultancies are hired to manage the project and to provide team members either from their own staff or to contract them.

Project managers in such a structure are also hired as contractors or consultants and once the project or the program is over they leave together with all the other team members. In such a structure most of the team members do report to PMs but it is still not a direct (solid line) reporting relationship since both the PMs and the team members are essentially contingent workers and not employees. PMs don't to performance reviews in these case as the team members may not even work for their companies and both the PM and the team members can be self-employed.

Also in these structures PMs don't have a lot of authority as the authority is held by the project or program director who controls the budget and who can fire the PMs as he sees fit.

I have never seen a case in which a permanent employee that is not working in a project management role to directly report to a PM. It would make no sense since projects are temporary while the employment contract for those employee is permanent. Permanent employees need a permanent manager but their relationship with PMs is not permanent.

" Having these responsibilities will force the project manager to learn about the hopes, dreams and career aspirations of their direct reports. This should provide them with a greater ability to enable them to connect the team members' individual purposes to the success objectives of the project. "

The above words is the message that Patrick Lencioni tries to convey in his book , "Three signs of a miserable job" which i am currently reading . He explains the principles of "Anonymity" and "Irrelevance" respectively .

Anonymity: Employees feel anonymous when their manager has little interest in them as people with unique lives, aspirations and interests.

Irrelevance: This condition occurs when workers cannot see how their job makes a difference. "Every employee needs to know that the work they do impacts someone's life -- a customer, a coworker, even a supervisor -- in one way or another,"

Adrian -

Project-oriented organizations are common in large engineering/construction consulting companies such as SNC/Lavalin. The PM has full authority over hiring, firing & performance evaluation decisions for their team and because those projects are usually spanning multiple years (sometimes multiple decades), there isn't the same short-term horizon we see on most technology projects. I have a very personal example of this - my Dad was the senior PM on a large Malaysian hydroelectric project and had this type of formal authority for over a decade.

Thanks Deepesh - what's funny is that Lencioni's triangle of management anti-patterns and Daniel Pink's triad of positive sources of inspiration in "Drive" are fairly similar!

Very interesting, thanks for sharing

A project manager has a shelve life. The cycle must end. Regard less of how employees perform their employment is tied to the project. Once the project is over you are out of job.

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