What does project management mean to me – a Project Manager’s Sermon (a #PMFlashblog production)

After accepting the challenge to concisely deliver an apt response to that question. I have spent the last week pondering a suitable response. My own unique perspective on Project Management. I trust that the following provides this.

If you were to ask the question to every project manager engaged in the role across the globe, you would get a raft of distinctive answers. Many of them very unique!

My twist on this topic is based on being a committed project management professional for well over 20 years. During this time I’ve seen many weird and wonderful things. It has afforded me the opportunity to gain experience in leading and delivering transformation $million projects and programmes; endeavours that have aligned People, Process and Technology closely with business strategy for numerous blue-chip organisations, including as ATOS, Capital One, CGI Group, Lloyds Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland. Plus a whole raft of smaller endeavours, I once listed them and stopped at 150 projects! Furthermore I have consulted in both advisory and delivery capacities (in the UK, Europe, Canada and USA) in supplementary specializations including strategic alliances, collaboration strategies, programme due diligence, delivery assurance, and turnaround of programmes and projects.

Why should my perspective be any different, well it is based on over two decades of involvement in project management and the culmination of all those experiences (plus those gained in my earlier career). Enough ambiguity?

As a project manager you should be comfortable with ambiguity. Project managers must be willing and able to reshape the norm, shakeup the process, each time things need to change. Often moving from one project to the next with few common threads…other than it always involves people.

After more than two decades striving and driving project delivery, I see that project management is truly about managing people.

OK let’s clear the clouds of vagary from that statement.

People are at the core of what project management is. The glue that holds these people together is relationships. Adhering people to your project to facilitate a beneficial relationship can really mean the difference between dazzling success and dismal failure. Believe me, I’ve experienced it from both sides of the fence.

I figured this out very early in my project management career and it has had a major influence throughout my career.

Hopefully the following tale (from earlier in my career) gives some context:

I did not choose project management as a career. It was thrust on me shortly after change in career path. Even my blatant attempts to thwart the extra project management duties failed as unfortunately my department head spotted potential in me that I didn’t (at the time). In retrospect, I can clearly see what she desired in her project managers…a core competence in managing people and developing relationships.

In 1990 I was a fresh faced Business Systems Analyst, knew nothing of project management. I can’t recall whether I had ever come across the term previously.
I had been working for the National Westminster Bank (then the largest bank in the UK with over 60,000 employees) for the previous 6 years. Most of those years spent on a management development programme (having been one of the first 30 employees on the programme) and worked across the firm’s retail and corporate banking operation at numerous locations across England. During this time I supervised and managed teams of up to 20 staff across various customer facing, selling and relationship management roles.

During the tail end of the 1980’s the Bank’s efforts to stay ahead of the competition were driven by technology transformation. At that time they deemed that business expertise was absent from information technology departments, as numerous solutions failed to deliver expected business benefits.

I was selected to take my irreplaceable business experience to the bizarre world of IT. After an intense business systems analysis training course I was “parachuted” in to a software development team building large scale retail banking systems.

The “project manager” of my team was actually the lead developer. You know the type, decades of technical experience, encyclopaedic knowledge, highly respected and no further promotion route other than management. However, he was introverted; detested the project management role, found leading mentally and emotionally draining to the point where he actively avoided interaction with co-workers and customers. That is when I was asked to step in to fill in the blanks, so to speak.

Initially I was tasked to take on the additional responsibility as the teams interface with other teams and customers. Having previously led teams of mixed age groups and backgrounds, plus handling challenging customer roles, it was felt I could bring a missing dimension to the role. As my role developed I adopted more of the typical project management duties, allowing my “project manager” to focus on what he did best…solving technical challenges.

My department head encouraged the hybridisation of my role. The team was bolstered by improvements across several areas. Most importantly relationships with the other teams and our customers, these were advanced to previously unheard of levels. Because of the new levels of interaction amongst these stakeholders those previously hindering challenges faced by the team seemingly vanished.

The department head had seen a weakness in the team’s project delivery effectiveness, primarily around people and addressed it with a unique workaround…me.

I learnt that effective project managers intent on achieving project success must be:

  • people focussed;
  • accessible;
  • effective relationship developers.

Such managers satisfy peoples underlying need to be listened too, to feel that communication is actually a two-way street, also that the extended project team know that the PM is readily available to hear ideas, discuss issues, ratify actions, or solve problems, that people respect and trust the PM to deliver and this is reciprocated.

Often it is portrayed that to be an effective project manager it is imperative that one knows the tools and techniques for managing schedules, scope, cost, etc. Those processes developed by experts over decades. Although these are important, it is never enough. Those skills are only a portion of the skill set needed to succeed in delivering projects. After all projects are performed by people, this requires “soft skills”.

People are a critical element of any project. Relationships with people are paramount, whether they are customers, team members, or other stakeholders. Project managers need to be able to identify, develop, manage and sustain effective relationships with stakeholders, these essential project resources.

As a project manager, you become the “public face” of your team and project. So one needs to be the best advocate, requiring to be “out and about” promoting the project, building connections and relationships…with people.

Good relationships can be the difference between dazzling success and dismal failure. In a nutshell, it’s all about getting people to respect and trust you so that they will deliver what you need them to deliver at the right time, in the right way to enable your project to deliver. After all its common knowledge that project managers don’t do any of the project delivery. it’s the project team that does!

Experienced project managers often say that stakeholder relationship management, is in fact, the most important competency a successful project manager possesses. I’d be interested in your views here.

So stakeholder relationship management is important for projects, just wait until you move to managing a program. The added complexities and interdependencies of programs increase the relationship challenge exponentially!

That’s why I love doing what I do.

If that’s not enough dedication. I’ve typed this lengthy article with one hand, my not so favoured left, as my right arm is immobilized (thanks in part to a displaced collarbone resulting from a 25 mph forward roll from a mountain bike).

NOTE: This post comes as part of the PMFlashBlog event. The first ever virtual flash mob of project management bloggers, bloggers are participating from across the virtual world making this a truly global event. Bloggers have joined in from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, UK and the USA. Check them out at Listly

Follow the event on Twitter with the hashtag #PMFlashblog.

6 responses to “What does project management mean to me – a Project Manager’s Sermon (a #PMFlashblog production)

    • Brian, thank you for your comment. Very much appreciated. The people aspect is what I love about the role, you can guarantee that no two days are ever the same! Neil

  1. Neil, good post! I really like your statement “Project managers must be willing and able to reshape the norm, shakeup the process…” Rather than simply usher along the process, they must drive it and challenge team members. In order to be successful, PMs must get the rest of your post down…people, people, people. You need relationships, trust, and support if you are going to shake things up. Again, good post!

    • Robert, thank you for your comment. As ever I look forward to your feedback.

      Project managers are leaders and must set examples for others to follow. We must be willing and able to “reshape the norm, shakeup the process, each time things need to change”. If we didn’t we’d not have the mature methodologies, frameworks and processes in use today.

      A great example is what you’ve done with #PMchat. Shaken things up for the benefit of #PMOT. While engaging hundreds of people!

      Very much appreciate your comment. Keep up the great work with #PMchat


    • Elizabeth, Thank you for your comment, its very much appreciated. Don’t you think the PMFlashBlog was a superb event? Credit to Shim for his hard work. Look forward to the next one. In the meantime we have the Gower launch event to look forward to. Finally we will have the chance to meet. As regards my shoulder, it might well take a few months longer to heal. Frustratingly I’m vacationing on a barrier reef and not allowed (thanks to the injury) to go scuba diving; have discovered other ways to delay the healing process, including those more associated with R&R. Thanks, Neil

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