Its not all about Gantt charts

Gannt charts are just one part of project managementCommonly held beliefs about the likelihood of projects ‘succeeding’ advocate the increased attention to the ubiquitous Gantt chart, adherence to methods and a thorough and profound understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the project team from Sponsor down. Leadership and motivation too attract significant amounts of attention in the various bodies of knowledge. There are training courses, interventions, development programmes, centres of excellence, seminars, coaching programmes and so on all devoted to tuning the capability of our professional project and programme mangers.

The various competence frameworks have highlighted the need to consider not just the Skills and Knowledge components but also the ability of the individual to be able to a) contextualise those skills and that knowledge but also b) be able to demonstrate certain behaviours that enable them to be deployed to greatest effect within that context.

Let us give you an example; a plumber comes to your house to replace your gas boiler. They understand the basics of pressure, water, gas and electricity sufficiently enough to replace your boiler. They can solder two pipes together, knock holes in walls and generally make a proper job of the replacement. If they leave muddy footprints up the hallway, park their van on your roses and swear and blaspheme throughout the process we might conclude that they are in fact incompetent due to poor behaviour.

 They are unable to convert knowledge into competence.

When organising a meeting, it is perfectly possible to simply email out an agenda, organise the room and coffee and biscuits and when the attendees turn up, have a thoroughly unproductive and wasted session. Correct behaviour might include seeking involvement from the attendees, asking them to help construct the agenda, seek to understand what can be done prior to attendance, who should actually be there, what objectives should be set, etc. After the meeting we would write concise minutes, circulate them and follow up actions (amongst other things). Most effective project and programme managers will do this as a matter of course. Some though may not.

 Simply sending emails is not a satisfactory form of communication – indeed some would argue that it is not communication at all. That a lot of people do these limited things is not that they do not know any better but simply that they do not behave as if they do.

As a general rule it is relatively simple to perform diagnostics around skills, knowledge and experience. It is far more difficult though to identify those components of behaviours that we need to focus on to raise the game of otherwise knowledgeable professional project managers.

If we are hoping to take otherwise knowledgeable professionals ‘up a notch’ we must do more than simply assess their behavioural characteristics. We must provide a real and appropriate portfolio of interventions to ensure they are supported in their development. The six million dollar question though is what? Some of the pitfalls that lie in wait are that

  •  A projects’ apparent ‘complexity’ rises as a function of the number of stakeholders. We are all taught that stakeholders represent the key component of most undertakings and rightly so. Mostly though once again our tools are geared up to help analyse them. Thereafter the manner in which they are influenced and engaged is largely left unanswered.
  • In order to act upon one’s own behavioural shortcomings it is necessary to be aware of them. This is not going to be an easy question of diagnosis. This is not something that will be obvious. It requires attention to detail, observation, agreement, perception and a willingness to be assessed in a live environment by others. Only once we have recognised our own shortcomings can we attempt to build our self management, awareness of others and therefore enhance our relationships.
  • Project managers must be able to recognise the difference between urgent and important. The phone ringing is urgent it compels us to answer. The personal conversation we are having face to face with someone when the phone rings is important. We do not interrupt one to do the other.
  • We do not see Project Managers as leaders, visionaries, strategists or potential board members. We see them as agents of change limited by the Time Cost and Quality triangle. We do not promote them into a main board role because we largely see their current role as an operational one not a strategic one.

We can start to build these observations into a range of opportunities that might start to help. We need to consider tackling them on many levels.

At an organisational level we need to understand what it is that inhibits the leverage of our best project managers into board roles? How can the valuable capabilities of these individuals be honed to make them somehow more acceptable to their peers?

These are part of the reasons why we do project management training and development and why it is imperative that organisations are pro-active in this and embrace the benefits that can accrue from such interventions.

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