Concerns of Project Managers
The Olde Curmudgeon
I get so tired of hearing and reading that “You've got to have executive support … !” Do the people who say that all the time know what they are saying? Have they ever held a legitimate job? Have they had executive support on every project they've done? They sure aren't talking about the corporate world this old codger knew for a fair number of years.
Maybe I'm being unfair. Are they saying that you need “at least one executive supporting what you are doing?” That wouldn't be bad odds. It seems tome they are saying something like “most executives supporting what you are doing.” Wow! That would have been Utopia. Let me describe “The World According to the OC.”
I had a boss for several years who was smooth. You'd go to him and propose doing some project. He might say, “OK, just don't get me in trouble.” He probably wouldn't say anything more about it … unless. One unless was if something went wrong, in which case he would either deny knowledge of what you were doing or exclaim, “I told him not to do that.” The other unless was when things went well, in which case he might say, “Yep, he takes directions real well, doesn't he?” This boss could slide better than Ricky Henderson. Would you consider him the consummate politician?
There were two assignments this guy gave me. The first was to conceptualize a sales reporting system using our new IBM 7090. There wasn't one executive who had really thought about that, let alone being for it. It was in and working about three years later. The other assignment was to figure out how PERT ought to be used on new model development. Didn't really succeed on that one in about eight years, but then it still isn't the modus operandi yet, even though some progress has been made on specific models. I was just too far ahead of the wave.
There's another way of thinking about it. Most corporations, certainly the big ones, have several executives. Does executive support mean they all are in favor of what you are doing? That implies that they are all of one mind. My experience says that is doubtful. According to the rumor mills, they were playing all the political games among themselves. Often a decision was made on the basis of horse trading. If the deal could be voided, it might. Sometimes it came down to one executive winning approval, to the chagrin of most of the rest. That executive could not afford to have you fail, not while you were reporting to him. I remember two vice presidents who shared the same office suite and yet rumor had it that they would each stick it to the other whenever they got the chance.
The way I see it, there are those that are for you, those that are agin you, and there are those that sit on the fence. I was always happy when I had a lot of fence-sitters and no aginners. At least I had a fighting chance.
Getting more detailed, there are at least three levels of analysis. For any given project, there are some executives that are for it, some agin it, and some that are on the fence. Any given project manager may have some executives for him, agin him, and some on the fence. Finally, the sponsor of the project may have some that are for him, some agin him, and some on the fence.
The project manager is lucky who also has a mentor, I was fortunate to have one on a major effort who always found time for me when I was down in the mouth and then gave me a friendly boot in the rear saying, “Go get ‘em!”
I had some tricks I used to help deal with the difficult situation. Some worked some of the time, some worked most of the time, but none of them worked all the time. It would be great if some of your readers would share their experiences on how you run a successful project even though you really don't have executive support. Do you think you could arrange to publish stuff like that?
Editor's Note: You bet! Send in your suggestions and experiences and we will forward them to the O.C.
PMNETwork • August 1994