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The Project Manager's Art

This message expands upon points made in a post May 3, 2010 at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com 

If you can measure it, you can manage it.


What's wrong with that principle? After all, it's a commandment followed by countless managers, including Project Managers. It's half of the “science and art” concept often applied to Project Management.


Actually, there's nothing wrong with it. What's wrong is the way it generally is implemented. Many managers run it backwards to justify their aversion to dealing with the real issues in their organizations: For them, if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. This perspective limits your field of maneuver to what comes to you in a quantified form. If you're really daring, you might actually quantify the matter yourself, reducing it to familiar formulas and numbers.


Conversely, if doesn't lend itself to physical measurement, forget it. It's unmanageable.


So you define good work habits in terms of showing up on time, or meeting deadlines, or producing X units of physical output.


The manage-by-measure mode has its limitations. You don't deal with unusual procedures or separate the necessary from the trivial, and you most definitely do no do well with creative problem-solving in unaccustomed situations (e.g., Projects.).


In a Project, overemphasis on quantification often means doing what you were supposed to do whether it works or not. The energy, imagination and commitment you might invest are really not all that distinguishable because you can't measure them.


There are places in Project Management where the “science” is absolutely vital. Estimating, scheduling and performance tracking, for example, must have very clear and specific metrics.


The cold, hard facts desert the Project Manager, though, when the matter at hand falls into the “art” side of the process. This is where creative problem-solving and idea generation reside. And long with them, most importantly, those pesky people issues, leading off with: How do you get people to do what you want them to do?


The answers, of course are:


You negotiate.


You persuade.


You motivate.




My experience tells me that the Project Manager who is not competent (or better) at convincing people will not succeed. We think of Project Team members as the Project Manager's prime partners, and they are. But equally important to Project success are the other Stakeholders, especially the senior executives who control the necessary resources, the ultimate decisions about the Project and authority over decision-makers who actually manage the organization's collaboration with the Project Team.


Those middle managers are themselves a class of stakeholder with whom the Project Manager needs productive relationships. The same is true of the end users of the Project outcome.


Within each group of Stakeholders, there are people whose goodwill and interest in supporting the Project must be obtained, maintained and enhanced. The Project Manager is the only person who can do that.


The how-to's of all this are fairly obvious, but it is not unusual that they aren't done well, if at all. Project Managers typically are very busy, and don't find the time for the planning, preparation and multiple direct contacts that it takes to built relationships. They also can be a bit shy, frankly, and avoid engagement in the “sales” efforts that are expected to be difficult or embarrassing.


An objective observer might guess that the absorption in metrics is a convenient way to avoid the people duties that the Project Manager would just as soon nt find time for.


And, very often, there simply is no tradition within the organization for this kind of wider function for the Project Manager. It may be necessary for the Project Manager to negotiate the very authorization and time it takes to connect with those people.


For that to happen, the Project Manager needs to understand the importance of using the skills of negotiation and persuasion to gain the clout within the organization that makes it possible to use them in the Project situation.


In an organization that values Project Management and constructively supports Projects, the culture makes participation a high value. People look forward to being on a Project Team and contributing to Project success.


So, how do you get people to do what you want? You get them want it, too. It's easy to get people to do what they want to do.


Organizations need frequent tune-ups to maintain effective workflow amid change. Jim has long experience – plus creative tools -- to help executives analyze their organizations, then design and implement better ways.
Project Management is the 21st-century model for managing complex, risky innovations to on-time outcomes within budget. Jim Milliken offers workplace-tested designs in customized formats for onsite implementation and classroom training.
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