Leading Successful Projects
Organizational are facing complex challenges through an accelerating rate of change of external
factors such as technology, demographics, government regulations, and global competition.
These rapid and spot changes put tremendous pressure on organizations to effectively respond. As a result, traditional
structures for managing must allow an additional management form. This emerging
form is well suited to short term, unique demands of the external environment and is referred to as projects. Projects deliver change. Project Leaders deliver projects.
How can it be that this emerging form of projects and project teams is in greater demand and is
garnering attention by organizational leadership? Projects have always existed.
Some outstanding examples are the building of the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, and the Mayan pyramids. These are considered some of the greatest
projects in history. The project managers of the above projects used simple tools.
They did not have software programs to manage their projects. These projects also took a high toll on the well-being of the
project workers. Yet these projects were completed and represent wonders of our world.
It is generally agreed that the beginning of project management as a discipline began in the 1950’s
and 1960’s in the United States
with the Polaris project. Over the subsequent decades, a group of dedicated project managers have been learning and improving
project management methodology. A community of practice emerged to create a Project
Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Despite the dedication and significant improvements, project management did not gain
common acceptance and utilization until recently. PMBOK was developed during a time that the basic assumption of good management
was hierarchical, command and control.
At their best, organizations are learning communities. If this is so, managing the people side
of projects is an essential part of learning and responding effectively to change. Classic project management has focused
on the technical or tactical side of executing projects efficiently. Now, however,
there is a need to build upon the technical side by adding a focus on the social reality of a project to effectively execute projects. The change the projects seek occurs when stakeholders (those with a stake or impacted)
accept and support the change.
It is not an either/or but a both/and of project work. Projects have things that need to be managed (planning,
budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving) but people need to be led (providing vision, aligning,
motivating, inspiring). Management without leadership is as bad as leadership without management. Both are needed. This balanced Socio-Technical focus produces successful projects and high
performance organization cultures.
The purpose of this paper is to provide language, understanding, and approaches for the technical
side of projects (project management) and then add project leadership. In this way, both the technical and social/people aspects
of executing a project have focus.
In organizations today, there are many types of projects with endless possibilities. A project can be
Developing a new product or service
Designing and implementing a new process
Developing a brand image or marketing plan.
Redesigning an organization structure
According to Lewis (1995:2) a project is: “a one-time job that has definite starting and
ending points, clearly defined objectives, scope and (usually) a budget.” What
differentiates a project from an ongoing processes such as delivering a product or service is that projects are considered
temporary, unique (non-repetitive) and specifically addresses a need to change. Ongoing processes are
long term, repetitive, and require consistency of approach. Operations and projects do share some characteristics. They are both performed by people, constrained by limited resources, and should be planned, executed and
controlled (PMI, 2000:4-5).
A good way to understand project work or management is to compare it to what it is not.
An approach for change
Business as usual
Temporary – clear start
Maintaining Status quo
An opportunity for development,
Expected of one’s role,
New, different, innovative
Routine, consistent, desiring
Aligning & coordinating people
and work towards a goal
Scheduling on project management
A project manager balances competing demands for Scope, Time (Schedule), and Resources (people,
money) which is conceptualized as the triple constraints model. The challenge provides rapid development of management skills
so it provides a training ground for high potential employees.
Project management calls for the creation of a small organizational structure – the project
team. This project team is often cross- functional and a microcosm of the larger organization (Heerkins, 2000). One of the most important roles of a project manager is to build a high performing team from a group of
people that may have never worked together and could have potentially worked against one another.
The traditional (PMBOK) project management process has five phases: Initiating, Planning, Executing,
Controlling, and Closing.
The Initiating phase of project management includes
examining the need for a proposed project and gaining clarity and commitment. During the Initiating stage, a champion should
be identified. The project’s case for action, purpose, and outcome should be developed. A project manager and project
team should be identified. An effective tool for this phase is a project charter.
The Planning phase devises and revises a workable scheme to accomplish the project’s intended goals
and outcomes. In the Planning stage, the project’s roles, milestones, deliverables, tasks, and resources required are
identified. A schedule, budget and critical path of tasks are developed. A Gantt
chart is a simple tool that provides a graphic display of schedule related information.
The Executing phase coordinates people and other resources to carry
out the plan as defined in the project plan. This stage is uses key project measures to manage change and take corrective
action as needed. This phase involves working within a budget, making sure tools are in place, dealing with problems that
may arise, keeping stakeholders (such as customers, clients, and executives) informed of the project’s progress.
The Controlling stage provides feedback by monitoring
and tracking progress to agreed upon measures (scorecard). Execution may be altered if the feedback indicates that the project
is off track.
The Closing stage includes final details for completing a project
and obtains acceptance from key stakeholders. Closing ideally includes conducting a lessons learned and shares best practices.
The final project plan, lessons learned, and other key documentation should be archived for knowledge sharing purposes (Graham,
Adding Project Leadership-201
Traditional project management has focused on the Technical (execution) side
of projects. There has been little focus on the people - project performers and stakeholder relationships. The lack of focus
on the well being of the project performers resulted in the loss of body, mind, heart, or spirit. This could be as extreme
as death (e.g. pyramids, Great Wall) or stress related ailments. Stakeholders were informed of the project changes but not
engaged in helping to understand and develop the details of sustaining the change. Communication meant more telling than listening.
In today’s knowledge age, the whole person and relationships matter.
People matter because they are most important component for responsiveness
and achievement of project goals. Unlike scope, schedule and other resources, people are best led not managed. When project
performers and stakeholders understand, are aligned, and motivated, the project change moves from a proposal to reality. The
alignment is accomplished through relationships. Relationships are created and evidenced by conversations/communication. A
relationship can be defined by the last five conversations that shaped it so communication is critical. Relationships matter because a relationship is where commitments are created.
The need to increase the focus on the Social side of the projects
has led to new definitions of project management. Hal Macomber (2004) redefines projects as:
“A project is a single-purpose network of
commitments performed by a temporary social system. Unlike recurring business processes, the network of commitments on a project
emerges rather than is designed and refined as performers gain experience in the network.”
With the shift of some focus to the social side of the project,
the role of the project manager must add the role of a project leader. All of the previous technical aspects of running a
project cannot be lost. What is lost is the command and control assumption of the project manager position. The project manager/leader
role holds a hierarchical relationship but the project manager/leader operates as a servant leader to align and coordinate
the project team to deliver on commitments. At this point, project leader is defined to include both project management and
leadership and operates to:
1. Create the necessary conversations to make collective sense
(sensemanaging) of the project to provide clarity of purpose, outcomes, process, and coordinated roles.
2. Understand, align, and coordinate the individual and group
dynamics of the project performers. Attending to the individual and team means a project leader must optimize the following:
· Mindsets, assumptions, and other cultural impacts
· Background, experience, and skills
· Development needs and ambitions
· Engagement and involvement levels
· Commitments and accountabilities
3. Stay focused on the vision and continually adjust to move toward
that vision. Change and response is inherent in a project. A project leader facilitates ongoing conversations to make collective
sense of changes while keeping the team connected and committed to effectively achieving the goals of the project.
Project leaders have a challenging role to connect the social
side and the technical/task side of project work. The key to connection is conversation that reveals the context and content
of the project. The following is a model that depicts the complexity of a project leader’s role.
A project leader balances the contexts of nested systems (external environment,
the enterprise, the Strategic Business Unit (SBU) the functional department, stakeholders, to the project itself). Within
the project, a project leader must deal with the whole person who has different mindsets, assumptions, culture, backgrounds,
experiences, and skills. A project leader must sensemanage to create a collective mindset. A project leader must focus on
the development of each member of the project team while creating a high performance team. This entails relationships and
a web of inclusion. All of this is accomplished utilizing the basic tool of conversation.
An organization is effective and sustainable when is it successful at responding to change. For
an organization to appropriately respond to change, the leadership needs to identify projects and utilize project leadership
to achieve needed changes. The project leader should be an individual capable of balancing and integrating the social and
technical side of project work. This project leader should be able to effectively deal with context and content and efficiently
execute following a project leadership process. This involves project management, change management, communications, developing
project team members, connecting with stakeholders, and coordinating commitments and accountabilities. Clearly project leaders
need to appreciate the complexities, challenges, and opportunities inherent to their work of creating change capable, high
performance project teams.
Hinrichs, Ph.D. firstname.lastname@example.org
Discussion / Sensemaking:
· Why is there a greater demand for project leadership in today’s business environment? What are the
competencies of a project leader?
· How would you define project management?
· How would you explain the difference between a project manager and a project leader?
What would you put in an IS/IS NOT table?
· How would you connect the five phases of Project Management (PMBOK) to the six phases of Project Leadership?
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