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  • Bill Holmes

Can Executives Really "Run" Projects?



I have extensive experience in the Project Management community, but I have also provided PMP exam preparation training to hundreds of students. The students have had incredibly diverse backgrounds and work life experiences, and we often discussed how their real life experiences aligned to industry best practices. In the vast majority of cases, there was a huge gap between the way projects should be run, and they way they were actually run.

Why was this so? There are clear best practices, yet they are routinely ignored!

And yet, there was a common thread...

That thread can be summed up as "my manager/executive/sponsor doesn't understand projects, so they discount the Project Managers opinion on key decisions.

Fascinating! Yet predictable... If you consider the evolution of projects as tactical tools for delivering organizational value.

Think of your traditional functional organization.

Functional organizations make perfect sense as they allow for specialization of skills. The engineers all have the same training, the talented (either politically or within their craft - different conversation!) get promoted and eventually rise to a senior leadership position. There is shared training, professional education requirements, educational background and a sense of collegiality that can't be underestimated! This model is followed over and over across the specialized skill sets, until the senior leadership of the respective organizations are populated by "representatives" of their disciplines.

Now along comes a project....

The project is needed and the functional executive made the case for it, explained the Return on Investment and successfully navigated the politics of project selection - and now they have funding, a deadline and visibility.

Now what?

Unless there is a Directive Project Management Office (PMO) who will assign a Project Manager and take responsibility...

The executive is now responsible for complex, high profile project. Unfortunately, the skills and education that led them to their current positions have not prepared them for the challenges associated with Project Management Governance.

And how many organizations have a true Directive PMO??? With career paths, positive educational requirements, mentoring programs? Not many.

So, we have an Executive who has deep and impressive knowledge of their craft, and suddenly they are confronted by a PMP (what's that?) that is describing "change control", and "requirements elicitation", and "decomposition". What is all that stuff? And what is the reaction?

I must understand!!! Explain these things to me! Even though you have training, documented over 2 years leading projects, and passed a comprehensive exam - I must know!!!

Or...

What do you know? We'll do it my way.

Which is interesting!

If I wanted a legal opinion, who would I go to? Our legal team. If I wanted an engineering opining, who would I go to? Our engineering team. And so on. And in many cases their opinions are beyond contestation!

But, if I want an opinion about the best way to run a project, where do I go? My Project Management Professional has an opinion! Is their opinion beyond contestation?? Of course not! And that is a problem in the field

And an expensive problem!

Thoughts?

More to follow