Posted by: kenwbudd | August 14, 2009

Don’t Play Good People out of Position

Aye! Aye! Sir! The face of Experience but not the Voice.

One of the most common mistakes that I see in organisations is that they promote or recruit great technical experts to be poor project managers and excellent sales representatives to be ineffective commercial or business managers.

I am not a big fan of the highly commercialised football business, but the strategy mentioned here is the same as taking your best goal scorer off the field and puting him in as the club manager. The skills needed to perform one job function are rarely suitable to perform the other.

Someone who is a highly accomplished technical expert in the organisation is not the same person to lead, control and focus the efforts of others.

I am not saying that this person is not capable of being re-trained into a new role but has the appropriate assessments and interviews taken place to ascertain, not only elligibility but motivation and focused commitment.

You originally hired them or trained them to perform a very specific task or fullfil a series of objectives. They have consistently delivered high quality results and have bailed the organisation out of many problems. Everyone knows that they can rely on this person.

Suddenly and after due thought, the organisation decides to implement strict project management methodologies to support the company’s forecasted growth. They decide to use this chosen technical expert to lead a major implementation.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? This is the person that always delivers and therefore they must be the best candidate. Unfortunately, it is not necessarily the correct criteria and so often this person quickly falls into difficulties and ends up on their face. The real victim can be the organisation and it’s new found belief that project management doesn’t work for them.

At the core of this issue is not the person chosen to be the project manager, it is the organisation that put them into an untenable position. Although the chosen person is very focussed and motivated by their technnical expertise, they were not truly suitable to organise the resources and coordinate the project.

The majority of technical gurus, would prefer to get their hands on the toys and start fixing the problems themselves. They are used to working in chaotic situation and they are happy to live in that environment. Therefore, they do not always see the true value of running a well controlled project in an organised and structured way.

A second issue that I have seen is with the governance controls inside organisations. These are intended to be established to support project management in an organisation. Often these organisations are stuffed to the roof tops, with theoretical and process people that have never successfully run a project themselves.

So often, processes and policies are developed for the rest of the organisation, that are far removed from the reality of everyday projects. What is developed is something theoretically sound, state-of-the-art approved and slick but, unfortunately, it does not meet the organisation’s cultural requirements. “Looks great Bob! but we can’t use it!”

At this point one of two things can occur.
1) Stakeholders and senior management sponsors will continue to insist that the PMs, running the projects, use these processes and policies, or else! The risk here is that the projects will all bog down and start to fail, despite the determination of all concerned.

2) In the absence of a strong directive from above, the more experienced PMs will simply ignore the processes and policies and fall back into their own tried and tested ‘ways’ to run the projects. This can also spell disaster for the organisation and by association, project management methodologies.

Another common issue I have seen, is that most organisation think they can perform project management cheaply, using more junior level people. They hire people that have less than five years experience and they call them Project Managers. They tell these people to take control and drive the projects towards implementation.

Without real, hard-won, experience about how to deal with and communicate positively with senior level functional and business managers, these poor people will very quickly lose their authority. They will be stripped of their implied status and will simply become the subordinates, and compliant ‘yes-sirs’, to the functional and business managers involved.

The functional and business managers have now gained control of your critical projects and the project managers becomes the note-takers, expeditors and coordinators. The project is now moving in another direction and with prioritised goals that were never required or intended. Again the organisation sees project management as the failure.

To have a successful project management environment you need to hire the right people. Just as you do not hire a goalscorer to manage a team, nor should you hire a technical expert to lead your project management effort. Find a seasoned, well weathered business management professional with the right experience and commitment to lead the organisation.

In conclusion, if you want to succeed, with the development and implementation of project management within your organisation, you must not skimp or stray from the path. You must hire a seasoned project manager with the correct skills and true experience to perform their duties and sometimes that means saying ‘No sir!’, with all due respect.

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