The Project Manager is Dead - Long live the Project Executive!

The Project Manager is Dead - Long live the Project Executive!

The Project Manager is Dead - Long live the Project Executive!
The Project Manager is Dead - Long live the Project Executive!

In life or in business, things usually happen in cycles. The impetus for the change is a reaction to what has gone before. Think on music as an example. In the 70s we had Rock, which was starting to become beautifully crafted and often quite cerebral, and was taken over by disco; Disco was shallow and fun! Then it too was usurped by punk which was diametrically opposed to everything that disco represented. 

When we had polished production and amazing outfits coming from the New Romantics and Big Hair Rock, the counterpoint to such excesses was Grunge. With cycles, we react against the past with revolution, until we then universally embrace the shiny new thing, and then the inevitable excesses follow until that too is displaced with a new revolution.

So it is with business. Some of the “fads” that have come and gone include:

-TQM (Total Quality Management) and the Six Sigma cult 

-From the 90s - MBAs and Accountants managing every business 

-The rise (and fall) of the Project Manager

Revolution to established practices is most recently called, “disruption”, but cyclical trends are more normal than not. I still have clothes in my closet that are out of fashion now, but I’m hoping I can wear again when they become retro chic; although I hope flared trousers never reappear.

The impetus that brought the Project Manager was driven through the pace of changing business, (mostly due to technological drivers and globalization), and so grew the need for a new type of leader. This person had skills in traditional practices but had shown their real abilities were more versatile, and they focused on delivery over activity. 

This was different from an operational leader since operations was steady state, and these new projects and initiatives were characterized by rapid change. This meant these initiatives needed a different skillset to deliver, so the role of Project Manager was born. And for a while, these individuals were highly qualified and so quite scarce. As I’ve written before, the PMP came along and turned everyone into a Project Manager, and the profession became diluted and commoditized.

But there still is a need for a leader that can deliver on complex initiatives. This individual should have the skills that were encompassed by the original Project Managers – but we can’t call them Project Managers anymore, so we need to press into use a (relatively) unused term – the Project Executive.So what should our ideal Project Executive (PE) look like? Notice we don’t call them Project Leader since they don’t necessarily need the traditional skills of leadership.

For instance, the PE doesn’t necessarily need acute man management skills. Whereas an Operational Leader would have to focus on long term development of their team – Mentoring, coaching, challenging them, setting career goals, the focus of the PE is on delivery; they are not there to make friends but to deliver a quality product, on time and on budget. The only “resource management” they involve themselves is building the right team with the appropriate skills. The PE should realize he/she is disposable also, since when the project is over, so is their role.

Risk and Issue Management – Whenever you hear someone bemoan a failed delivery, they cite several (usually common) issues. When asked if they didn’t have those issues would they have been successful, they often reply, “Absolutely!”. Therefore, comprehensive issue management can often be the difference between success and failure. And of course if you have strong risk management, the likelihood of the issues even occurring is minimized. Recognizing and managing risk is an acute skill, usually developed over many years, and unusual in the typical PM.

Influencing without control – On a typical project, there are many dependencies that could impact success, but often they are outside your direct sphere of influence, so how can you still manage them? This item would take more space to discuss than we have in this article, but is crucial. I once heard a PE say that if he wrote a book on Delivery, he would write an entire chapter on this topic. He later changed that to say it might take a whole book! But that is why he is a PE and not a PM.

There are many more parts to the duties of a PE, but the point is there needs to be differentiation between a project manager (now a low level functionary), and the Project Executive, the absolute leader of the whole initiative. So for those who feel they qualify, change your title on Linkedin to Project Executive and maybe it might get you some additional traffic. Let’s hope so, because being a Project Manager just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

The Author :  Stuart Hamilton

About : 
To structure the delivery of complex, large-scale transformational projects while managing and coaching multidisciplinary and matrixed teams. Day 1 assistance to develop strategy, roadmap, and execution plan, then execute and manage the implementation.

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