Playing the Right Leadership Role
Education and Training,
Human Aspects of PM,
New to Project Management,
Reflections on the PM Life,
Categories: Best Practices, Career Help, Change Management, Communication, Communication, Complexity, Education and Training, Facilitation, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Leadership, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Lessons Learned, Mentoring, New to Project Management, PMOs, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Project Delivery, Project Failure, Project Planning, Project Requirements, Reflections on the PM Life, Roundtable, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams, Tools
By Peter Tarhanidis
It is not unusual for project leaders to fill a variety of leadership roles over the course of the many unique initiatives we take on.
As I transition from one client, program, employer or team to another, my personal challenge is to quickly work out the best leadership role to play in my new environment. Therefore, I find it helpful to have some knowledge of leadership theory and research.
Leaders must understand the role they fill in relation to staff and management. That typically falls into three categories, as defined by Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada:
Interpersonal: A leader who is either organizing the firm or a department, or acting as an intermediary. He or she is the figurehead, leader or liaison.
Informational: A leader that gathers, communicates and shares information with internal and external stakeholders. He or she is the mentor, disseminator, and spokesman.
Decisional: A leader that governs and has to make decisions, manage conflict and negotiate accords. He or she is the entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator.
During one of my recent transitions, I thought I was a decisional leader, but I was expected to play an informational role. When I acted on information rather than sharing it and gaining consensus toward a common goal, my team was very confused. That’s why it’s so important to know the role you’re expected to fill.
When you start a new effort, how do you determine what role you’re expected to play? How has that contributed to your success?
In my last post A Better Path Forward For Federal Programs , I discussed how the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act empowers the Office of Management and Budget to create a program and project management strategy for the U.S. federal government.
The legislation also requires the heads of several U.S. government agencies—including the Departments of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy and Department of Education—to designate one senior team member to serve as its program management improvement officer. In this role, the senior team member will be responsible for implementing program management policies established by the agency and developing a strategy for enhancing the role of program managers within the agency.
The program management improvement officer also has another set of responsibilities that I find particularly interesting. The law says the project management improvement officer must develop a strategy for enhancing the role of program managers within the agency. This includes expanding training and educational opportunities for program managers. This portion of the legislation creates a formal process for program managers to strengthen their existing competencies and allows project managers to develop into program managers (I once wrote a post on this topic).
Given the complexities inherent to contemporary program management, professional development initiatives will successfully prepare program managers for progressively larger delivery responsibilities. In addition, they will create an opportunity to centralize lessons learned on existing delivery programs for even more effective future program management.
Admittedly, when I first heard of this legislation, I was somewhat doubtful of its ability to influence program management results. However, after diving into the details, I’ve become an advocate. I’m excited about the new standard it will set for federal program delivery—and the prospects it holds for building similar program management capabilities in the private sector.
We may jest about the effectiveness of government regulations, policies and practices—but this legislation has the potential to significantly boost program management innovation in the public sector.
Do you believe the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act will spur program delivery improvements in your workplace?
by Dave Wakeman
In conversations with project managers I hear a lot about the causes of project failure. Here are three big ones that come up over and over again—and how to avoid these common traps.
1. Overpromising and under-delivering.
This will set you up for long-term failure because your sponsors and stakeholders will start to lose confidence in you.
While there are numerous reasons why you might go with this approach—from the inability to be truthful due to political pressure or a desire to please everyone—it almost always fails. When you make promises for the sake of not having to say no or wanting to please, you are just prolonging the pain.
Here’s how to avoid overpromising: When there’s pressure to come up with unrealistic promises, ask what is pushing these demands or why this timeline is important. Knowing the answer might help you prioritize parts of the project that can achieve those goals or help you reallocate resources in a more productive manner.
When pressures mount, it can be easy to think that we can or should step in to deal with any and every problem. But offering up ideas, thoughts, directions and other forms of advice meant to move the project along can often slow things down.
Micromanaging can feel good, but it is often destructive because it undermines the larger need to build trust and confidence in our subject matter experts (SME). If we don’t, we will find ourselves fighting a never-ending battle. We’ll try to stay on top of more and more as SMEs push back by not doing their best work because they feel we don’t trust them to do their jobs.
3. Withholding important information.
In my view, one of two things drives secrecy in projects: fear or lack of trust. Both often occur because you don’t have a good working relationship with your team, stakeholders or sponsors.
But as a project manager, your job is to manage the flow of communications into and out of a project so that smarter and wiser decisions can be made.
Set some guidelines and expectations for your communications with teams, stakeholders and sponsors. Then, as the project advances, judge your relationship against those expectations.
If you find that your information needs and expectations aren’t being met, you have to have a conversation with your team or stakeholders. Be clear with team members and/or stakeholders about how the information deficit is impacting the project.
The best project managers push themselves and their team to address uncomfortable situations before things get any worse. How have you built a project environment infused with trust and openness?
By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
By Kevin Korterud
Program management made news in December (though perhaps not front-page headlines) when the United States Senate unanimously approved the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act. The legislation enacted a number of initiatives for improving federal program delivery, which has suffered from past budget, schedule and quality challenges.
While government legislation is not necessarily my weekend reading of choice, I recently spent time reviewing the new law. It quickly became apparent to me that, although targeted at improving the delivery of U.S. federal programs, it includes many considerations that are universally relevant to program delivery, even if you’re working in the private sector.
As part of the legislation, the deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget has been tasked with several new functions related to program and project management. Let’s take a look at two that I find particularly exciting and relevant to program managers around the world.
1. Chart A Strategic Course
Executives often tell me they don’t know where to start when it comes to improving program delivery. There are typically so many interrelated issues that it’s difficult to determine which actions would have the greatest impact on delivery results.
Other disciplines, such as technology architecture, business change management and customer satisfaction, typically work from some sort of strategic or transformational roadmap. The roadmaps identify common issues, solution strategies and transformational initiatives that drive success for that discipline.
The new federal legislation requires the deputy director of management to “establish a 5-year strategic plan for program and project management.” A program management maturity roadmap will provide a common vision around necessary improvements. And given the size and complexity of federal programs, it will also help teams avoid repeating prior delivery missteps, and enhance the performance of program management processes.
2. Lay a Solid Foundation
Early in my project and program management career, it was common for companies to have a homogenous, centralized employee workforce with strong business and technical domain knowledge that was built over many years. Today, the landscape of program delivery is much more fragmented and fragile.
Global delivery centers, various delivery approaches (waterfall vs. agile), business leaders that rotate every few years, contractors that play a larger role in delivery and emerging technologies are all components that complicate program delivery. It is a wonder that program delivery is ever successful!
The new federal legislation says the deputy director must also, “oversee implementation of program and project management for the standards, policies, and guidelines…” The creation of program management standards, policies and guidelines will serve as a foundation to harmonize the discordant realities of modern program delivery. By establishing unified rules, boundaries, practices and performance metrics that drive a cohesive approach, the inherent complexities of today’s programs can be successfully addressed.
What elements of the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act do you find most intriguing? I look forward to discussing.
By Kevin Korterud
Beware: Strategic initiatives aren’t the same as typical projects—they tend to be considerably more complex. For example, strategic initiatives are usually bound by some form of dramatic urgency around schedule (regulatory, market), costs (process improvement) or consumer satisfaction (subscription, satisfaction).
But the differences don’t end there. Let’s look at some other complex dimensions that must be considered when leading a strategic initiative:
1. Stakeholder Management
The stakeholder landscape is much more broad on a strategic initiative than a project. In strategic initiatives, stakeholders typically span multiple departments within a company, creating multiple primary stakeholder groups. And these stakeholder groups will often have nearly equal shares in the success of the initiative, thus creating potential authority conflicts.
In addition, there are also governance functions—risk management, legal, etc.—that will have either a primary or secondary stakeholder role.
The complex stakeholder landscape necessitates communication processes that serve vastly different audiences. There exists both a two-dimensional communications problem: one dimension is horizontal (i.e., across stakeholders) and the other is vertical (i.e., involving higher levels of leadership). What once was a linear communication process on a project now becomes more of a matrix process to deal with the breadth and depth of stakeholders.
Communications will need to be carefully tailored to different functions and levels of stakeholders. For example, more detail for operational functions, and simple, high-level summaries for leadership consumption.
3. Progress Tracking
Strategic initiatives bring with them inherent complexities that can quickly overpower the progress report tracking processes that are commonly used to manage projects.
For example, strategic initiatives will typically have more suppliers than on a typical project. These additional suppliers bring with them different commercial arrangements, delivery methods, status reporting formats and progress metrics. On top of that, all of these progress tracking components need to be harmonized across the various suppliers in order to achieve a cohesive and durable view of progress position.
Project managers will need to review, refine and agree on common progress tracking processes, reporting and metrics that are universally accepted by all suppliers. By creating this single harmonized view of progress tracking, you are more readily able to identify and address delivery volatility.
When first presented with the prospect of leading a strategic initiative, project managers need to balance the excitement of leading a high-visibility engagement with the practical realities of effectively and efficiently managing delivery. By putting essentials in place, project managers can successfully move on to the next step in the career journey: leading their second strategic initiative!
What essentials can your share with project managers new to strategic initiatives that will put them on the path to success?