We’re halfway through the year, and what a year it’s been: 2020 will certainly go down in my personal work history as a strange time for managing projects. The changes to the work environment and restrictions on movement have affected project teams in all sectors.
Table of Contents
- 1: Leadership
- 2: Resource Management
- 3: Value
From healthcare project managers working flat out to manage infection control initiatives and respond to an evolving situation across the world, to construction teams, educationalists and more. Most of the project managers I’ve spoken to over the past few weeks have been so busy helping their businesses pivot or stay afloat as the world responds to the health crisis we find ourselves in. So can we talk about hot topics without mentioning the virus? I hope so. This isn’t an article on trends. The topics I’m going to discuss aren’t trending – at least, not in any fashionable sense of the word. They are topics that have been around for a long time now, but they still bear talking about.
They are discussion points that come up time and time again when I meet project managers at conferences, talk to colleagues or mentor individuals. And you’ve also probably these topics covered in the industry magazines and on blogs like this one.
So why am I still talking about them? The three topics we are looking at today are the big current themes in project management and they still deserve air time because we aren’t getting them right. Read through the article and then let us know if you agree with me!
Leadership is a huge theme in project management. PMI has acknowledged the importance of soft skills with their Talent Triangle (a great way of representing what it takes to be a successful project manager). And if I had to pick one softer skill, I’d say leadership was the one I wouldn’t want to be without.
Leadership means looking at the big picture and making sure that the right work is being done. It’s less concerned with whether the work is being done in the right way (that’s the role of management if you consider the traditional split between leadership and management).
As a project manager, you have to lead the project team. This involves a whole range of other interpersonal skills like motivation, negotiation, stakeholder engagement and communication. Project managers do these things with the expectation of making it easier to run the project. The work gets done because we deploy leadership. When you are truly leading, you’re looking even bigger than the project and setting the project in context to provide the overall vision for the business.
You can lead on different levels, and you don’t need to be a leader as defined by your organizational structure to use leadership skills to get things done. Ultimately, for me it’s about owning your work, supporting others, being a shining light when things get tough and understanding how the big picture fits together – the business acumen aspect covered by the Talent Triangle.
Good project managers are really project leaders. They see the bigger picture and that shapes the decisions made by the team. You might have seen this too, in your business, especially if there has been a focus in recent years to make sure all projects align to strategy.
Many companies don’t have enough people to do the work they want to do. There’s a constant balance between the work that needs to be done – or that managers decide is important – and the people available to do the work.
We all only have the same number of hours in the day. Work, especially unique project work, takes time. Resource management is about making sure the business has the right skills in the workforce and that those people are available to work on projects. This could be by having a central resource log in your project management system, using matrix teams or pools of professionals. Or being organized in a more agile way with multi-disciplinary teams and cross-skilling colleagues so there are greater numbers of people who can do the work.
Resource management solves only part of the problem. Making sure people are available to work on tasks that are important to the business – that’s one side of it. The other side of this challenge is making sure the business is managing the pipeline of incoming work strategically, but that’s an article for another day!
For some time now there has been a shift in the dialogue from benefits management to value management. Benefits are things that are delivered or achieved as a result of the project. But you can get a benefit without any real value having been created for the organization.
Perhaps a simple way to think about the difference is to consider benefits as linked to a project and value to be linked to a more overarching level, like the organization as a whole. Value, in my opinion, tends to link more closely with how people feel about the benefits. You can deliver something that customers feel is valuable, even if you didn’t give them exactly what they wanted. Value is a very difficult thing to define, agree on, and measure.
Having said that, ideally, you want your projects to be the valuable ones, the initiatives that help the business take new steps forward. Of course, not all projects are going to be laden with value. Sometimes old servers need to be updated, and computer systems need an upgrade. There is value in doing those projects (or else the infrastructure of the company will crumble and become insecure) but they aren’t going to be top of the CEO’s slides in a presentation about business goals. Those kinds of projects are just expected to happen.
There’s a balance between the value-adding projects, and those that are required but where value is implied. It’s an interesting time to be thinking about what we mean by value and how we judge and rank projects based on it.
All of these topics could easily turn into book-length conversations! (They already have – you just need to look at online bookstores to see how many books there are out there on these topics.) For us as project managers, how can we use these topics to be better at what we do? First, work on your leadership skills. Look for examples in your business of good leaders and try to pinpoint why you think they are good. What can you learn from them?
Second, consider how resources are allocated to your project. How could you provide feedback to team managers or the PMO about how to improve the process?
Third, look at whether your project is delivering tangible value to the business. Do you know? How can you justify and show what benefits you are bringing to the organization? Make sure these are effectively written into the work you are doing so the value is realized.
Finally, talk to your team about these themes. What do they think? How could you work on them together? And is there anything else that, as a group of colleagues, you could do to make the rest of this year as good as possible, despite the challenges?