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Effective Project Managers Get Real Work Done

Guest Author
By Gordon Whitehead I served as the VP of IT Operations for a successful healthcare company in Portland, Oregon many years ago. I remember one of the first problems we tried to solve was the issue of delivering projects. I suggested to the CIO that we should hire a project manager and consider setting up a PMO shop. The CIO was skeptical. He didn’t see how a project manager would help us. I was a little baffled by his response, so I pushed forward. My feeling was if we could put discipline into the process of planning we would execute. I hired a project manager on a short contract. After 3 months I had to explain to the CIO that we haven’t seen much of a change. The reason why is the same reason that causes complex PMO structures to fail regularly in large organizations. Problem: Just Another process layer First, the project manager did his best to implement some project management process. However, the process was academic. The project manager spent considerable time crunching data and developing wonderful looking charts and plans. His timelines and Gantts looked inspiring. So what was the issue? He was not connected to the actual work – he had no responsibility or empowerment to execute. As a result, he was simply pushing information around in his project management tools and no real work was happening, even when he tried to help task-workers, he couldn’t because he did not have authority or technical knowledge. Because the project manager was only a process layer, he directed no real work. In the end, who was right – the CIO or me? Both. The CIO was right because his instincts told him that a formal project manager added extra process and would not be effective in an agile environment - though he could not express these thoughts in advance. I was right in that project management as a discipline was important to getting real work done on time, within cost, and within a stated scope. I also knew that instinctively. What is the reality? When we tried to put the project discipline at the wrong place in the organization we did nothing more than implement a process layer that nobody paid attention to. The solution was (and is) to change our thinking and realize that each line manager, each line supervisor, each team leader needs to understand that they are the “project manager.” Empower the line leaders with project management disciplines at their level and work moves faster. When you make the line leader the project manager you get two solid business results: (1) Reduced headcount footprint, and (2) Empowered the technical leaders with specific, light-weight, project processes that enabled them to do their business better. Bottomline 1 – In most cases, the most effective project manager is the person directly responsible for the project – don’t add a layer of leadership. Bottomline 2 – Keep the processes lean. If you roll out a full-blown PMP and PM solution to a busy line leader, you won’t get any traction. Give them practical tools and teach them the components of the theories that help them get their work done. Line leaders crave speed to market. They crave agile performance. They crave success. The right level of project discipline at the line-level accomplishes those three things.
Gordon Whitehead specializes in leadership, organizational development, and agile coaching. He is an experienced leader and has served as an Officer in the United States Marine Corps, IT Director at Nike, IT Director at Sequent Computers, Vice President of IT Operations for CorVel, and founder of Leaders247. Gordon has been a head varsity basketball coach and a varsity football coach. He holds a Doctorate in Management from George Fox University and is an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University. Gordon is married to Diane Whitehead and they have eight children and seven grandchildren. You can learn more about Gordon at Leaders247.com www.projecttimes.com


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