Great project leadership
by Greg Hutchins, Contributing Editor
DILBERT CREATOR SCOTT ADAMS pretty much framed the discussion of management in his famous Dilbert Principle when he said, “It takes less brains to be a manager than to be the people who are managed” [The Dilbert Future, 1997, Harper Business, pp. 119–120]. Adams also said it takes more brain horsepower to write a data encryption algorithm than to write daily status reports on the encryption project. It takes more brain mass to be a brain surgeon than to write project vision/mission statements. So, what does this mean for us today?
Frederick Taylor's Project Management. Let's look first at what project manager and employee traditionally meant. A project manager was usually defined in terms of superior and subordinate. One boss years ago once said to me, “When I say jump, I want you to ask me: ‘How high, when, and which direction.’”
Where did this type of thinking come from? For a long time, Frederick Taylor's scientific management was thought to provide answers to good management. Taylor's ideas in 1911 were largely based on scientific and technological ideas of predictability, command, and control. If everything could be measured, it was assumed that science would provide efficient answers for delivering projects on time and on budget. Unfortunately, people were forgotten in the search for efficiency and lead management gurus had to rethink project management.
Is Management Dead? Some work pundits actually suggest that managers don't add value, are too often redundant, and are organizational dinosaurs. Richard Koch and Ian Godden in Managing Without Management [1997, Nicholas Brealey Publishing] suggest that management as it exists today may disappear entirely early in this century. And, managers can't and won't be salvaged by the flavor-of-the-month fads.
Sound far-fetched? Project work must still get done. Control systems must still exist. But, these are largely technical and administrative details. The critical issue is adding value. So, who adds value in an organization? According to Koch and Godden, entrepreneurs and leaders add value, not managers. Six major forces are supposedly killing traditional management: the power of customers; the spread of information technology; shareholders' assertion of their legitimacy and rights; efficiencies caused by international competition; the drive for organizational simplicity; and the growth of powerful leaders.
Greg Hutchins wanders the earth posing as a project management consultant, asking people trick questions, and generating material for his real career as a writer. Send fan mail or comments on this column to editorial @pmi.org.
So, What Is Leadership? The difference between a leader and manager can be understood around the issue of control. A “control” freak or project micromanager has managed us at one time or another. This person focuses on work minutiae. He or she must bless every decision. Micromanagers control by policies, procedures, rules, ratios, matrices, formulas, models, and straightjacket budgets. Innovation and risk taking suffocate in these atmospheres. Leadership inspires, engages, dares, dialogues, and challenges.
Great leadership is still difficult for me to explain, although I know it when I see it. More and more, leaders are seen as people who can guide themselves or a group to do what needs to be done as well as reach ever-higher goals. In general, these are normal folks who possess high energy, are committed to a cause, can share responsibility, have high values, and are highly credible.
Leadership can also be defined by circumstances. In a critical project, we're seeing leaders in different levels and in different areas arise from the force of circumstances because of a sense of urgency or vision.
It Comes Down to Great Leadership and Self-Management. More and more, I see two critical success factors in killer project teams: self-management among team members, and great leadership. Team members know their roles, authorities, and responsibilities. They know the direction and purpose of the project. Team members cooperate regardless of differences in work styles and personality. They show individual initiative and do what is needed to get the job done. In this highly effective team, what's the role of the project leader? This person becomes a role model, coach, facilitator, and educator.
SO, CAN YOU IMAGINE how a supervisor or manager feels when most of his or her organization's cube-heads have Dilbert cartoons, cups, and paraphernalia spread all over? Cynicism breeds. Project managers develop a bunker mentality. Many are opting out of management to become sole contributors or start their own businesses. ■
PM Network February 2000