Andy is a friend and colleague of mine and the owner of People Deliver Projects. I first heard of People Deliver Projects in 2010, but didn't meet Andy until late 2012. We now work together and I have a huge amount of respect for Andy and the way he is able to engage clients and have tough conversations.
Lead through conversations – also the tough ones!
From my observations, there is a particular breed of project leaders who really grab my attention. They are what I would call
a ‘people person’, and what I like most about them is their natural inclination to lead their project through conversations – also the tough
ones! When their team members don’t deliver on a promise, they call it out. When stakeholders resist, they welcome it and ask for the truth. When their sponsors go invisible, they seek them out and ask for what they want. They are rarely on their keyboards or devices, but perch on the ends of desks, walk corridors at the end of the day or listen in a local bar later still.
The few project managers whom I really put high on a pedestal are those for whom tough conversation is so integrated in who they are
that it seems easy, even enjoyable. They don’t see diffi cult stakeholders as antagonists to be rugby tackled, but as equal people who walk in different shoes, and who have no less right to choose their own behaviour than we have. I suspect they see projects as a social system, possibly because it might be too obvious to consider that it might be a mechanical one. Whether they think this or not, they thrive on the fundamental ingredients – relationships, connectedness and trust. This is created through conversations, lots of them.
These project leaders have plenty of self-confi dence, but it seems composed rather than brash. They take risks, but without seeming
reckless. In fact there is little ego involved; the issues seem not to be about ‘them’, but just about what needs to be discussed. In our
intellectual management culture we have a name for it – ‘authenticity’, but in truth I am not sure what the best word for it is. One client said to me, ‘It’s obvious, dummy – it’s leadership.’ We laughed, knowing there was truth in that. In any event I fully intend to enjoy watching it some more, and who knows, maybe emulating it a little each day. – Andy Taylor, People Deliver Projects
Just Enough Process to get the job done
Back in 2006, People Deliver Projects was created in part because I wanted project management to be different and I believed it should be. Optimistically we hoped we could change thinking, helping project organisations to see the single truth that projects are delivered by people not by methodology or software. It felt that project managers and their organisations couldn’t see it; it was a big problem and it needed solving.
In fact I learned fairly quickly that the clear majority DO see it. In fact they know it. Our own research says consistently that around 85% put ‘people factors’ higher than ‘project methodology’ in determining project success. Conversations with new clients have become a pleasant Groundhog day experience…’Yes, totally’…’Thank goodness someone else can see it’ or the most popular expression ‘Prince2 does not a project manager make’.
So how could the successful rise in profile and professionalism of project management miss the sweet spot? Why do intelligent and capable organisations over implement process so clumsily? How could the institutions pay scant attention to people skills, relationships and leadership? And indeed how is that Prince2 has become the UK solution of choice, when the prevailing responses we hear are: Too heavy, too slow, too many documents, too dull, we hate it?
My take on it, admittedly biased, is that our profession (at least in the UK) is trapped by its founding culture, where it was built and why it felt needed. The world of IT became tainted by failed implementations, governments and civil servants are more embarrassed by project failure than lauded for project success. Central functions feel under-valued and misunderstood as a result of criticism from ‘the business’. It is therefore understandable that project systems, beneath their rational exterior have been created more from more visceral drivers to defend, rather than to own and lead.
Understandable, but not good enough, not any more. We find more and more that our clients want to deliver more projects for less resource, much faster and with more distinctive outcomes. They need to change faster than they have been able to do in their past. 70% accuracy at pace is way preferable to a pedestrian 90%, where no blame can be laid.
Process advocates have a plausible response, something like ‘it’s how you apply it that counts’. I used to sympathise and I’ve said it too. I don’t anymore. It’s too easy, too appeasing. So seven years on, with 80 clients, how do we see things now?
Well we used to say to our clients that unlearning methodology is the natural next stage in project management maturity. It’s a plausible position, ‘balanced’. Certainly clients liked it. I don’t say this anymore either. I’m afraid I may have been colluding. Now I am bolder and prefer to discuss a clear change of tack. Strip away process to the minimum useful in each setting. Fill the void with capable leaders who are world-wise not wed-to-process. And for those organisations starting out in project management, we say cut out the middle step altogether and a plot a shorter course. Keep process, simple, plain English and just enough to get the job done. After that it’s about people. – Andy Taylor, People Deliver Projects