Is it really project management?

The more I think and learn about project management the more I realize I had it all wrong in my early days of beating my head against the wall to get my projects completed within the triple constraints.  Being an accidental project manager with no formal training and also being from an engineering background pointed me in exactly the wrong direction for getting things done through other people. I always was a “hands on” guy who loved to find solutions to technical problems.  My viewpoint was that the project team was there to help me get the project done. I would never have guessed that I, as the project manager, was there to help the team get the project done. I finally figured out that this twisted mindset was one reason I was so exhausted on every project.

Today, it’s now clear that project management should be focused on enabling, guiding  and directing people who do the actual work of the project. Our job as project managers is not to tinker with the deliverables but to make it possible for the project team to do their job and produce the results. The primary directive is to establish motivation, create commitment and unleash innovation. This is a tall order for anyone and especially for a “hands-on” engineering nerd who wants to do everything his way.

Many project managers really don’t understand their roles of a relationship manager, motivator and facilitator. This is the soft stuff that is really the difficult but essential part of project management. It’s something that is very indefinable in technical terms and deals with the unpredictability of human emotions and interactions.  

Is it really project management? No, I think it is more accurately described as relationship management that enables and empowers the interactions of people to produce value. It’s about managing context rather than content. With this project management mindset, I believe there would be many more successful projects and contented project managers.


3 thoughts on “Is it really project management?”

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    Servant leadership is how I think of this kind of project leadership. Once we help the team to create a shared vision and set a clear direction then it’s all about providing resources, removing obstacles and offering the motivation and support required. Sure, there is course correction, but as long as the team is moving effectively in the right direction then we’d best serve their needs as our #1 priority. That’s why it drives me batty when project managers start off their day by checking their email instead of assuring the needs of the team are met. (OK, maybe there would be a relevant email in there about team needs, but we all know that it’s not the main reason that email is our first task of the day.) – Kimberly

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    I would bet enabling the team at the detail level may be a customized effort depending on the characteristics of the team. But people in general response to the same basis needs. First, I think you give them a mission statement they all can identify with, i.e. “We’re saving lives by detecting and rendering IEDs ineffective”. Second, you identify roles and give each a voice in contributing to the mission. Third, you remove barriers, go to bat and simplify processes for them, i.e. they dictate and you write their status reports for them. Lastly, you recognize and credit effort and achievement. If this doesn’t work, I would try being a yoga instructor and leave this messy business to someone else.

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    Very well put Frank. And what a change this is to the whole mindset, when the goal is “enable my team to do great things.”

    As a former Program Manager, a challenge I found is that there isn’t concensus at a detailed level for how to go about enabling one’s team. There’s lots of philosphy out there, but when the rubber meets the road, then what?

    Anyone have thoughts on this?

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