This post extends points introduced March 21, 2010 in a message at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com.
The fundamental reality of organized behavior is that the ultimate outcome – good or bad – is not determined by anyone so much as by everyone.
The project management graveyard is full of headstones, some of them monumental, memorializing leaders who worked to exhaustion and ultimate burnout in heroically carrying difficult efforts on their backs. As reluctant, overbooked and undermotivated team members did not invest adequate effort in the project, the project manager typically picked up the slack personally and pulled it through.
Any single project can succeed on the substance in this scenario, but as a policy the approach uses up an organization's best people and establishes a culture of noncommitment among the general workforce.
Studies have shown that, while individual champions truly accomplish wondrous feats, the champs simply cannot deliver consistent high performance by organizations. And when the champions are gathered into teams to pursue goals that are beyond their personal reach, the outcome don't measure up to those of well-led teams composed of committed ordinary people.
In short, an organization that regularly conducts successful projects recognizes that it must establish the principle that collective excellence is made up of the multiple products of collaborative individual effort. There is no faceless, abstract organization. Instead, there are continuing team efforts by individuals who personally commit to working individually and collectively to accomplish specific quality outcomes.
One vital component of the “everyone” referred to in the first paragraph is senior management, the individuals who have the authority to establish and affect projects, and who control the resources required to make the projects work. The resources most prominently include the middle managers and individual contributors whose participation and/or support are essential to the project.
Those members of the organization must respond to the directives of those in authority as they act on priorities in their work.
When the senior managers and executives fully understand and believe in the project, they make the decisions that empower the project manager and obligate everyone involved to commit the effort the project requires. This must continue through the multiple bramble patches such initiatives encounter.
The project manager's central focus, then, is not primarily that of a person leading a direct assault on the matter at hand. The underlying thrust must be to negotiate the entire spectrum of understanding, agreement and effort that builds and maintains a fully functional team at every level of the sponsoring organization.
Without such involvement and support, nothing will work. A championship way of life is a shared challenge. You get to put the winning shot in the hole because many people were together in getting the game to that point.