Project Manager is an Orchestral Conductor
Large projects take on a life of their own. They are unwieldly with lots of moving parts and issues coming at us from all sides. It’s a lot to hold on to so these usually become ‘programs’ and we hire a group of project managers to keep track of all the details. That’s all well and good – details matter.
Having been responsible for this type of project before but on my own, it’s tough to take a step back from the details and look at the project as a whole. Where is it heading? Are we going off the rails with all the problems? Are these ‘normal’ problems and we are continuing in our forward momentum? Are we going awry? Is there one cause or one person who is a bottleneck? Is there a department that is always behind or a person making things overly hard?
I’ve talked about the ART of project management and this is where the rubber hits the road. This is where the expert resides. Finding the answers to these questions is being the conductor – looking around at your orchestra, seeing patterns and seeing the difference between symptoms and the real problems.
Project Plan as a RoadMap
I’ve done a lot of different project plans and I’ve seen a lot more. I’ve seen people put in a series of status meetings as tasks which only front loads the project level % complete. I’ve seen Sponsors want individual steps for each repeatable task put in the plan because they feared we would forget them. I’ve done 5000-line project plans because there was that much to do. I’ve done little 40-line ones that are very high level and just keep us on track.
All very purposeful and useful and very like a bean counter.
I wish MS project/SmartSheets/etc was more fluid and allowed for us to see past the tasks and look at the project as a river system with lots of small trickles and streams. All leading into a large river that supported the environment and provided even more than what we originally needed. Instead, I find projects get blocked and misguided due to not taking the time to do business requirements and not thinking through the design and not taking the time we need to be successful. Of course, there are constraints of time, resources, and scope but we take short cuts and remove scope due to our misunderstandings and assumptions, so we produce small rivers that don’t support even our basic needs.
What if we did the right thing from the beginning? Is that so hard?
Expectations are TOUGH. You need some of them but not too many of them and they need to be just above where you are, so you strive to be more but not too high and they need to be realistic, so you feel motivated. How in the world can you make that work? Especially as a matrixed project manager who doesn’t know these folks very well.
Expectations are CRITICAL. This is what gives your team the belief that they can do it. But, can also demotivate them if it feels out of reach or not presented with appropriate belief.
How do you find that balance? You listen.
What is Accountability?
We talk about it all the time and we say we want it and need it. But what is it really?
At its core, it is a system where individuals are expected to do what they say they are going to do, there is a process in place that remembers what they said, and they are asked to provide their results when it is due. Sounds like a project plan and a ‘check off the boxes’ kind of project manager to me. Is that really what we want, and will it really meet our needs? If our only goal is to ‘get it done’ or ‘get it across the line’, then sure this will work, especially if the culture is reactive and focused on making money.
But, what if our goal is success? To go beyond expectations and delight our customers? Then what? Then, we would need a system that supports the individual, where expectations are just above what’s feasible, where the project plan is a road map, where the project manager is more like an orchestral conductor than a bean counter, where people are responsible for doing what they said they would do, and they want to do it.
Then I agree, we need that. We need a system of accountability.
In my opinion, accountability is the most important tool we have as humans to become better versions of ourselves. It provides the checks and balances to keep our egos humble; gives us the opportunity to become self-aware, to learn from our mistakes, and to say we are sorry. Probably why Executive Coaches have become so popular now? The Coaches provide an objective voice to hold the Executives accountable.
Interviews with VC funded young companies that failed go: I lost my way – I moved to ego metrics instead of cash flow metrics; Our salaries were too high with high expenses, so we ran out of money. The list goes on. Were they told the truth? Where was their expert to hold them accountable? Were their egos so high they didn’t listen?
I see it in project management all the time. PM’s who are afraid to tell the truth to their Sponsors. Fear is the number one enemy of accountability.