Separate yourself from the pack!
The new role of the project manager is to serve the project organization, creating a meaningful experience for team members, customers and critical stakeholders. This experience is the fuel that ignites the transformation of people, systems and organizations. However, project leaders cannot bring about transformation on their own.
Transformation requires willing participation. Transformation begins with the human and social needs of the project organization, the community of stakeholders and their relationship to customers’ business needs. The project leader aligns personal aspirations and needs with transformative insight and leadership to not only satisfy the overall objectives of the project, but also leave behind permanent benefits.
The new name for those who initiate and sustain transformation through the alignment of the human and social needs of stakeholders is the service-based project leader. They define their success not just by traditional project metrics and rewards, but by the net social outcomes and the intrinsic value of the work itself. Service-based project leaders create work that illuminates individual identities and discovery of purpose. Their leadership unites stakeholders, enabling their rapid self-organization in pursuit of a common goal.
As expectations of stakeholders continue to increase as investment in project management methodologies and training increases, the project leader must view project management as a service to become a service-based project leader. “A service is an economic activity that adds value either directly to another economic unit or to a good belonging to another economic unit.” (Hufbauer, G. & Warren, T. 1999, p.2) Consequently, a defining feature of a service is direct interaction between producers and consumers before the service can be rendered.
Embedded in this model is a subsequent model for service. The project leader's economic activity is to add value directly to other economic units—the project team, its sponsor, the customers and interested stakeholders. For the project leader to add this value, he must have direct interaction with them in order to understand how to best create that value. The project leader must regard of all of these human stakeholders as consumers of his service.
Unfortunately, services can become commodities when they have been impacted by the availability of reduced communication costs, free-trade policies and the availability of low-cost highly-educated labor.
The project management industry is in the early stages of this cycle:
- Rapid increase in demand for project management services is evident. (Growth of project management certifications and project offices)
- A supply of highly-educated foreign workers that emphasize cost and quality. (Growth of certifications outside the US in places like India, China, etc.)
- International competition has quickly adopted standards and quality methods. (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), ICB Competence Standard and organizational project management and governence methodologies).
Disruption in Supply and Demand
Services are also broken up into vertical segments. This process of disintegration impacts the the project management practitioner. A project manager is viewed as a provider of services that relate to the core knowledge areas in project management, such as scheduling, cost, risk, procurement, communication, integration, etc. The project manager is responsible for managing the project and leading the team through the respective processes. This strongly implies a holistic level of accountability and responsiblilty for planning, execution, control and closure of the initiative. Thus, the project manager plays the leading role in providing comprehesive services to the project stakeholders.
Project management knowledge that was once tacit is now much more formally documented and distributed across the diverse project management industry. Industry standards are widely accepted and available. Each have processes, knowledge components and techniques that promote the “codification” of project management. This allows specialists to enter the market and provide specialized project management services that threaten the general functions of today's project manager.
Technical standards within project management are also maturing and standards for critical tools used with the project management industry are increasingly becoming more stable, allowing for interoperability between systems.
Few political or commercial barriers restrict the entry of supplier countries into the market. Where strong educational systems allow the teaching of the disipline of project management, it can be exported cheaply. According to Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel, “India, China, Russia and the Eastern Bloc joined the world's free economic system: three billion people. We've never had anything approaching that before. ” (Baker, Shinal, & Yi, M. 2004)
Exhibit 1 depicts the relationship between natural vertical disintegration conditions and conditions appearing in the project management industry.
Exhibit 1. Examples of disintegration of PM services.
New Managerial Work
Traditional decision-making theory promotes a rigid heirachical approach to decision-making in which management makes all the decisions because average employees have insufficient capacity or information to make them. (Taylor, 1998, p. 9-10) But today's information technology has led to information overload; management has access to an abundance of information that it can not process quickly enough for effective decision-making. The constraints are not the information itself, but the human brain and its capacity to process information. This constraint drives the decentralization of decision-making, since one person alone cannot process all the information.
As projects become more strategically aligned with organizational objectives, they inheritly become more enterprise-wide, complex, and information intensive. More decisions are made at the project or team level, and project leaders must act less as a manager scheduling and controlling the work and more as a liaison between project knowledge workers and executives who need project realities translated into high-level actionable information nuggets. This requires more business knowledge and managerial skill than the traditonal project manager role.
As projects get more complex, the project leader is subject to information overload. After spending much of the day in meetings, practitioners have to work grueling hours that cut into their personal lives in order to catch up on emails, review the latest revisions to specifications or requirements, approve timesheets, incorporate the latest PMO templates for the next round of budgeting or read meeting minutes that are 24 hours old and already out-of-date.
This is the life of a project professional trying to hold onto the old managerial methods without embracing the new managerial work. The new managerial work trumps the “first law of scientific management” that states the superior must have complete knowledge of the work that needs to be done and prepare detailed instructions on what needs to be done before the work is started. Instead, “negiotation and salesmanship” characterize the new managerial work. (Brynjolfsson, 1991)
Separating from the Pack
To step out of the role of project manager into that of a service-based project leader, a project manager must see herself as a professional whose primary purpose is to generate value through personal performance and services provided to customers. The key to value in services is creating a recognizable value proposition through performance, finding new creative services to satisfy that proposition, and emphasizing quality and the experience of the service. (Berry 1999, chap. 1) These services must overcome the forces of commoditization. These new project leaders do not compete on price but on value, created through unique customized services that provide meaningful experiences and initiate transformation. These qualities that differentiate these leaders from project managers.
Service-based project leaders create efficiency by focusing on high-value work rather than becoming bogged down in repetitive tasks with low value or minimal impact on project goals. Instead, they quickly master those procedural, repetitive tasks and then coach, train, and promote other resources to do them, thereby elevating both themselves and others to higher levels of performance. This efficiency creates a superior value proposition for stakeholders, without the need to work ridiculous hours. A sense of moral and ethical purpose, their primary motivation, differentiates these leaders and is at the heart of their efficiency. Service-based project leaders maximize work days by keeping team members productive, aligned and in sync with each other and by removing unseen barriers that impede progress.
A service-based project leader doesn't throw out the proven processes, tools and techniques she used as a project manager, but rather finds creative ways to adapt these tools and discover new services. She customizes templates and tools to meet the needs of her customers, and continually seeks to discover what is unique about her current engagement and the needs of her constituents. Because of her deep understanding and intense focus on her customers’ needs, she continually adapts deliverables to meet those needs and create a better experience for stakeholders.
Deep within each stakeholder, service-based project leader, customer and team is the aspiration to grow and change. Service-based project leaders seek to understand these aspirations and customize experiences to initiate and guide change in themselves and their respective organizations. Service value is increased when experiences meet or exceed customer expectations, allowing change to become possible.
Customized services are most recognized by stakeholders when the leader takes on projects that have a high value proposition to stakeholders, but simultaneously carry uncomfortable levels of risk and uncertainty. High-value-proposition projects and programs make stakeholders uncomfortable because they are characterized by a history of failure, rely on cutting-edge technology, or require traditional organizational silos to collaborate. These projects gravitate toward performers who have this differentiating skill of customization.
Foresight is the head start the project leader has over her peers; once she relinquishes this advantage she no longer is leading, but reacting to events. She is a leader only by name, not by action. Events force her hand before she can muster the cognitive instincts to lead. (Greenleaf, 1991, p. 18) Foresight doesn't mean predicting the future, but becoming skilled at seeing trends in how people. This is not accomplished by sitting behind a desk or in meetings. Foresight is accomplished by being close to the project's work, its outputs and their consumption, without disrupting it.
A project manager works in the present with a plan for the future; a service-based project leader works in the present to bring about the future. Foresight is necessary to move project teams from reaction to proactive anticipation.
When a project is in trouble, teams find themselves continually reacting to the latest crisis. The project plan becomes outdated as activities and tasks become disconnected from the plan. The crisis comes and goes thanks to heroic efforts of team members, but soon a new crisis erupts because monies were spent outside of the plan, and schedules and resources are out of sync causing an array of potential new crises.
A service-based project leader's foresight moves the team from surviving crisis after crisis, which erodes trust and ignites fear, to executing with creativity and confidence. Though they cannot see these evolving conditions with 100 percent certainty, they have better-than-average odds of being in the right place at the right time to add maximum value.
The motivation to act in decisive ways with this foresight becomes a matter of ethics for the service-based project leader, because her conscience does not let opportunities for action slip away only to watch stakeholders pay the price for her inaction.
Work, particularly project work, can quench one's deep internal needs for connectedness with self and others. This internal yearning is rooted in the potential for new self-discovery. When one begins to feel the satisfaction brought on by new self-discovery, the constraints of reality seem to be lifted, even if only ever so slightly, giving rise to life-giving energy.
When project organizations are seamlessly connected, leadership is shared and distributed through the project organization, not based on experience, tenure or status, but rather based on evolving conditions and needs. With connectedness, team members feel free to push beyond their comfort zones, because failure is not feared. With connectedness comes the imaginary yoke of interwoven arms forming to catch those who courageously reach beyond themselves and momentarily fall. This yoke, symbolic of human resolve and purpose, strengthens with each stumble and subsequent recovery.
Connected teams create results that are significantly greater than the sum of results achieved independently. That is why these service-based leaders work tirelessly to create connectedness among participants. There is no formula for this natural phenomenon; the essence of system dynamics. Instead, it is allowed to occur naturally.
Challenges for Practitioners
Practitioners must overcome the reasons not to act as a project leader. There are real challenges, but there are also excuses. These excuses are usually rooted in fear.
I don't have the authority - Successful leaders do not attain their leadership positions by waiting for superiors to appoint them. Leaders don't wait for someone to tell them to lead. They start the process; they reach for more responsibility, and create opportunities for themselves by serving the interests of others.
Opportunities appear everyday to create a better experience for customers and team members. With openness to selfless service to others, opportunities for subtle positive changes in people, systems and the organization will begin to appear.
I don't have the ability - Another common excuse is lack of leadership competencies. Some convince themselves their brain is not wired for leadership work. Fear is often at the heart of this excuse, unless one truly believes leaders are only born.
Because leadership opportunities are abundant and come in all shapes and sizes, developing leadership competencies should be a life-long goal for any professional. Leadership competencies can be improved through the proper feedback mechanisms and use of emotional intelligence skills.
It is possible to learn new ways of thinking. Project managers, as individuals, have different learning styles — the optimum method of acquiring and retaining knowledge — just like everyone else. Through practice and repetition, one can learn to their brain differently.
It can be the fear of leadership that creates a mental block. More often that not, project managers consciously choose to look away and not lead, rather than be limited by their lack of ability.
The organizational culture must change first - Some convince themselves the organizational culture will not allow them to be a successful leader even if they had the authority. Waiting for the organizational culture to change is too risky. Opportunities float past project managers everyday, and they must act upon them. Organizational cultures are changed by change agents, who first transform themselves. People transform organizations; organizations don't transform people.
Project managers often complain that their organizational culture will not accept project managers as leaders. They recite, “Project managers in our company only perform certain types of activities, take notes in meetings, write a charter, develop a project plan and schedule meetings.” If you can't change what a project manager does, then change your title, take your project skills and start the journey as a project leader in the role of a functional manager or whatever title is needed to make it happen.
The reality remains that change is difficult. Personal change includes challenging existing thought processes that have been ingrained from early on in life. We must confront our own fears.
A practitioner who seeks to satisfy their unmet needs must first make a conscious decision to take ownership of their career. This ownership rests in a combination of choices and decisions concerning what she desires in a career. These decisions are made with regard for the truth of her present state of being.
A life choice commits a person to a state of being. This choice is the foundation upon which other choices are made. In order to make good life choices, she must be true to herself in thought and action, regardless of feelings and surroundings. (Fritz 1999, p. 188) Decisions are actions required to fulfill the life choice of being true to herself. These decisions range from momentous ones to daily, unnoticeable ones. A decision to become a certified project manager is not a life choice, but rather a decision to fulfill a life choice. If her life choice is not clearly made, the decision to invest in a certification may be misguided.
Truth can mean conformity to fact or actuality. But in the context of commitment to a service-based project leadership career, truth is more about fidelity to an original or standard. This fidelity is measured by the discrepancy between a project manager's present reality and their desired state of being. This fidelity is achieved through a pursuit of an inner calling, until a project manager's present career is aligned with the desired state.
In summary, life choices about who you desire to be lead to continual decisions and subsequent actions to reach your ideal state of being. These decisions result in an alteration of your reality, which in turn impacts your future choices as a professional.
Many practitioners – not just project managers, but doctors, lawyers and others — work backwards. They make decisions about their careers before making a life choice about being true to themselves. The external journey of choosing a career or profession is too often made before the internal journey — the serious consideration of one's calling. The result is years of hard work, often producing results, but not fulfilling one's potential or higher order needs.
Creating involves changing the underlying structure or root cause of a problem, while at the same time bringing new realities into existence. A project leader's problem-solving focus is on the removal of barriers to allow the creative process to flourish.
When vision and creativity is lacking in projects, project teams tend to recycle previous problems or move from one version of a problem to another. Because there is no vision, they focus on solving the current problem. A strong vision is necessary to change the attitudes, behaviors and processes associated with today's projects, particularly information technology projects. Technology can enable these changes, but too often a project team's focus on technology obscures the achievement of the vision.
A leader's purpose and vision — what he stands for and who he is, precedes the team purpose and vision. A service-based project leader must create a personal purpose and vision and be en route to achieving results prior to leading others. His purpose is a statement regarding his life meaning; “Why do I exist?” The vision embodies how he is to live out this purpose.
A personal vision is created by two components: one's current reality (where you are) and one's personal vision (who you want to be). The discrepancy creates tension that must be resolved at a personal level. (Fritz 1999, p. 114) Only then can one's personal vision be aligned with the larger, more inclusive group vision, which is critical for creating the energy to achieve this vision.
Similar to a personal vision, a group vision should conjure up mental images of the team's ideal self-image and purpose. This image should be appealing to all individuals and interested stakeholders. Project leaders must be able to articulate, in a concise manner, the essence of what a team is trying to create. This tactical visioning, a collaborative process, yields a shared vision, with linkages to personal visions. This is how service-based project leaders not only transform processes and systems, but also initiate the personal transformation of themselves and others.
The shared vision enables a team to generate positive energy. A project leader must define this vision and the current reality and allow the tension to resolve itself. If the underlying structure is built on mutual trust, respect and open dialogue, energy will naturally be generated toward that vision, and a high-performing team will emerge.
The creative process is filled with tension, anxiety and doubt. These seemingly uncomfortable feelings are signs of a fertile creative environment. Service-based project leaders using the creative process to their advantage learn to apply steady pressure to their conscious efforts toward a new reality and outcome until the pressure fails to produce any new movement or insight, then they release that pressure, relax and wait alertly for fresh insights. (Freeman, Isaksen, & Dorval. 2002, p.258)
Creating starts with the spark of energy that sets the project team's imagination in motion when a vivid discrepancy exists between current and future states. Creating involves making specific choices about the project results the customer and the project team want to create. At the organizational or strategic level, project managers may be left out of this process or only involved at the end of this initial creative process. This illustrates the need for servicebased project leader to be customer focused, with strong relationships that enable them to get involved earlier on in the process. The earlier the involvement in this step, the greater the energy the service-based project leader can generate within the team.
Overview of MyProjectAdvisor® Leadership Competency Pyramid
The MyProjectAdvisor® Leadership Competency Pyramid is designed to enable project leaders to separate from the pack and become a service-based project leader.
Exhibit -2 The MyProjectAdvisor® Leadership Competency Pyramid
Knowledge, Skill and Experience
The base of the pyramid is a leader's project and program management knowledge, skill and experience. This knowledge, skill and experience exist in the form of certifications and experience on various types of projects and with various tools, methodologies and systems. The presence of a certification is not the completion of the base – the base must continually expand if the pyramid is to grow taller. From this base project managers can launch successful service-based project leader careers.
Subject Matter Expertise
The second layer of the pyramid is subject matter expertise. Subject matter expertise is domain expertise and knowledge of particular industries, applications or processes. Service-based project leaders’ customer focus and transformational intent require that they understand his customer's business—all of his customers. Customers are willing to pay for domain expertise because they are looking for insight and expertise from an objective party. If the customer is not looking for this insight they are either getting it from somewhere else or they are not ready to create or sustain strategic change in their organization. Complexity and compressing timeframes require project leaders to gain credibility quickly; customers do not have the patience to educate a project leader on their business.
The third component of the pyramid is trust-based relationships, which must be formed with all types of customers—team members, sponsors, and important stakeholders. Trust is a cornerstone for leadership; sadly studies show that lack of trust is reaching new heights. As global competition and organizational change accelerate it is obvious why trust is low in organizations. People tend to trust less when more is at stake; strategic projects have much at stake. The instability created by constant organizational change and ambiguity makes trust building difficult. These conditions hold for strategic initiatives and may even exacerbate the erosion of trust-building conditions.
Still, people decide to trust. Entering into trust-based relationships takes time; they are more than relationships based on rational mutual business interests. Instead, these relationships are both rational and emotional. (Maister Green, & Galford 2001, p. 23) Trust-based relationships flow from a strong base of project and program management knowledge, skill, experience and customer insight that provides a foundation for the remaining layers of the pyramid.
The fourth layer of the pyramid is consultative leadership. This emerges directly out of trust-based relationships. Consultative leadership is the ability to lead others without direct authority. Consultative leadership is also rooted in servant leadership. Consultative leadership combines strong advisory skills with compassion and service to enable strategic project leaders to achieve meaningful results through others. The demands of stakeholder management in strategic projects require a mixture of advisory and consultative skills to keep everyone moving with their free will toward project objectives. Since strategic projects’ results are often ambiguous and difficult to visualize and define, the service-based project leader provides consultative assistance that aligns the growth of the project organization with the desired results.
Consultative leadership skills are ultimately about getting people to commit to actions that drive project results and illuminate opportunities to grow others. Service-based project leaders are dedicated to giving themselves to others in order to achieve something greater than themselves.
Courage is the mortar that keeps the bricks of the pyramid together. The higher one works up the pyramid, the more courage is required. Trust-based relationships require the courage to know oneself better and to speak articulately and passionately about subjects in front of customers. It takes courage to develop a relationship that reaches beyond the safe rational to the less predictable emotional level. Many aspiring leaders do others’ work to avoid having to confront them with their deficiencies. It requires courage to be honest with people but honesty without compassion is brutality. A service-based leader's behavior demonstrates honesty and sincerity through a commitment to improving the lives of others. They need courage to simultaneously transform themselves and to create and sustain change in the environment around them.
You must decide to separate from the pack; otherwise you will become lost in the pack. Become a service-based project leader.
Baker, D., Shinal, J., & Yi, M., (2004, September 26,) Intel Corp. On the Record: Craig Barrett, San Francisco Chronicle, Retrieved November 8, 2006, from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/09/26/BUGV88SI8T1.DTL
Berry, L.L., Discovering the Soul of Service, Nine Drivers of Sustainable Business Success, New York:The Free Press.
Brynjolfsson, E., (1991) Information Technology and the ‘New Managerial Work’ (working paper, MIT Sloan School of Management Center for Coordination Science, Cambridge, MA) Retrieved November 10, 2006, from http://ideas.repec.org/p/mit/sloanp/2467.html
Freeman, T.L., Isaksen, S.G., & Dorval, K. B., (2002) Servant Leadership and Creativity, Focus on Leadership: Servant Leadership for the 21st Century, ed. Larry Spears and Michele Lawrence, New York: Wiley & Sons.
Fritz, R., (1989) The Path of Least Resistance Fawcett Columbine:New York.
Greenleaf, R. K., (1991) The Servant as Leader, The Robert K. Greenleaf Center:Indianapolis, Indiana.
Hufbauer, G.& Warren, T., (1999, October), The Globalization of Services: What Has Happened? What Are The Implications? Peter G. Peterson Institute of International Economics, Retrieved November 15, 2006, from http://iie.com/publications/wp/99-12.pdf.
Maister, D., Green, C. H., & Galford, R. M., (2000) The Trusted Advisor, The Free Press, New York.
Taylor, F.W., (1998) The Principles of Scientific Management 1911; reprint., Mineola, New York: Dover Publications,.
© 2007, Jack Ferraro, PMP
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Atlanta, Georgia