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Leading IT Projects: The IT Manager's Guide
Building a Project Work Breakdown Structure: Visualizing Objectives, Deliverables, Activities, and Schedules
A Standard for Enterprise Project Management
Global Engineering Project Management
Effective Communications for Project Management
Managing Global Development Risk
Determining Project Requirements

Introducing A New Kind of Project Leader

Jack Ferraro

If you are a project manager or practitioner in this rapidly growing project management industry, you need to know this: Your project management services compete on a global basis. Yes, project management is a service. Project management is also a tool, of course, but your application of it is a service to your customers. And-here's where it gets sticky-your service is becoming, if it is not already, a commodity for organizations to purchase when and where they want it.

Think about it: a service is an economic activity driven by interaction between producers and consumers. Consumers-your stakeholders-are willing to purchase this activity, and producers-project managers like you and me-are willing to render it, for a fee.

As practitioners providing a service, we must ensure that our services-in style, content, and quality-differentiate us from the pack and provide unique value. This is a tough challenge for several reasons.

One trend driving the commoditization of project management is the conversion of individually held tacit knowledge into organizational knowledge by means of standard terminology and processes. Such standardization is a catch-22 for project management. On one hand, it means the discipline is spreading like wildfire and is increasingly accessible. On the other hand, standardization and accessibility make project management less mysterious-and project managers more easily replaceable.

Another driving force is globalization, with the resulting availability of low-cost, highly educated workers, as well as cheaper, faster communication methods that redefine how we interact with our stakeholders.

Though the demand for project management is strong and growing stronger-certifications have grown exponentially and jobs in project management have expanded-project managers rarely reap the benefits. Salary increases have been held in check by the flood of new talent and the fact that more project management jobs are contract positions controlled by staffing firms. Organizations are now often looking for specialists that they can "rent" to perform planning, execution, and control of project tasks. Job descriptions read like personal classified ads-looking for Project Manager with Agile, SAP PM 3-4 yrs. experience, Project Manager with Earned Value, or Senior Project Manager with Change Management. To make matters worse, barriers to decent-paying project management jobs have increased. Many jobs requiring only three to five years of experience now also require a certification, which just a few years ago was aligned with senior-level project jobs!

The squeeze is on: project managers are viewed as a bureaucratic cost of managing change. Many organizations' approach is to reduce the cost of project management while maintaining basic services. This is having a dramatic impact on the future of new practitioners jumping into the job-rich project management market, as well as on the careers of those who have been there for a while.

If any of this is as much a concern to you as it is to me, then we better figure out a way to rise above the pack, and provide value to our customers that far exceeds their expectations!

The commoditization and specialization of project management functions are here to stay. It is not hard to imagine any project management function becoming specialized, leaving little for the project manager to do except lead!

To separate from the pack, we must move from tactic to strategic, from departmental projects to enterprise projects and programs, from tools and techniques to people and relationships, from manager to leader-a strategic project leader. If we are to survive and prosper in our project careers, we must redefine ourselves-before others do it for us-as critical components to our organizations.

Experience has shown me that there is a new role for us: the service-based project leader. This role serves the entire project organization by creating a meaningful experience for team members, customers, and critical stakeholders. This experience initiates the transformation of people-including yourself-and the transformation, through people, of systems and organizations. This service encompasses a duty to initiate and sustain transformation, because of our unique position as a spearhead of change.

Some assume that team leaders are now less critical as organizations flatten their structures attempting to increase knowledge sharing and collaboration. The problem is that few organizations are aware of the need for this critical role. Instead, they roll the dice on the standard processes, methodologies, and technology to achieve nirvana in strategic programs and projects. However, they are foolishly ignoring the critical role you-the leader-can play in determining a project's lasting benefits.

If you feel the tremendous urgency to become this kind of transformative service-based project leader, self-directed leadership development, as described in this book, will be required. Self-directed leadership development is the process by which an individual, inspired by personal convictions and a purpose, develops and carries out a plan to improve his leadership competencies. This plan must be your own, not something produced by a corporate training department, human resource organization, boss, or coach. Self-directed leadership development is about you, not about others. The results of this journey are not contingent on others; there are no excuses.

A Transforming Story
I recently became reacquainted with one of my former students when a new assignment brought our paths together once again after several years. As I performed due diligence on the assignment, I noticed a constant theme emerging concerning her work. Every colleague and team member on the program marveled at her performance. "Wow! She is an amazing person," commented a team member.

Only a few years ago, she was still figuring out how to spell "project management," and now she is leading a high-performance team on a multi-million dollar strategic initiative. Her colleagues universally notice her drive, passion, and unsurpassed energy. It would be an understatement to call her a player in a hugely complex, strategic technology project; she is the key player!

Talking on the phone one afternoon, something she said struck me. "I am having so much fun on this project." Probing a bit more on this subject, I concluded that she is someone who has connected with her work on both a professional and personal level. She is following, though perhaps unknowingly, a self-directed leadership plan. After a few meetings and a lengthy dinner with her, I jotted down the following observations. She fully recognizes the magnitude and significance of this project and the role it serves to the future of her company, her coworkers, and community. She has sought responsibility, fully comprehending the associated personal risks. Realizing the magnitude of the situation and her role in it, she is actively transforming her personal behaviors. By seeking out a coach, destructive negative behaviors are being replaced by positive ones that feed energy to her high-performance team. Finally, her job function on this project is "business leader," not project manager, but she relies on project management to do her job.

Although self-directed, this kind of journey is not taken alone. Of course, you must help yourself to truly change; but self-directed project leadership is an avenue through which you grow internally through project life with your team members, sponsors, and even customers.

Self-directing puts you in control of your call to lead, but by becoming a service-based project leader, you give up control by serving the best interests of others, not yourself. This seemingly diametrically opposed paradigm works to put meaning and significance back into your project work. This significance is the springboard to professional growth.

In the end, projects tell us much about who we are as individuals and how well we work with others. Projects don't fail; people fail! Potential causes of failure are many, but ultimately it is not the projects that fail, but rather the people who initiate, plan, execute, and control them. People are the common denominator across all projects. Without people, projects don't exist.

Teams are central to an organization's ability to drive change and achieve specific business results. These organizations' teams are synonymous with projects. Teams increasingly work on strategic projects and programs that involve a tremendous investment of financial, material, and human resources, and positively or negatively impact the future of the organization's health.

As organizations increasingly strive to align projects with strategic objectives, the future of these organizations is deeply impacted by teams' ability to produce positively disruptive, mission-critical, enterprise-wide implementations of technology, business processes, and change management initiatives.

Success requires unprecedented collaboration across an organization's lines of business, and even across the entire enterprise.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that a strategic team leader, in addition to project management skills, needs leadership competencies such as courage, self-knowledge, and a sense of purpose, to be effective in his role. But combining competent project management knowledge, skill, and experience with leadership competencies is difficult to cultivate within organizations. Leaders often see project management as costly bureaucracy and project managers see leaders as monarchs who "just don't understand" project management.

So today you stand on the edge of a steep cliff, saddled with project office methodologies and mandates on how to proceed down into the treacherous dark valley and back up the other side. Far off in the distance is your sponsor or leader waiting eagerly for the expected results. You know the journey all too well.

All of the hype over project management-portfolio management, advanced degrees, and certifications-increases customers', sponsors', and general stakeholders' expectations of your project and your team. They expect you to journey through the valley more quickly and arrive with more benefits. You'll be satisfied just to make it out alive.

But today there is a rare opportunity to combine your project management discipline with leadership competencies that allow you to serve your sponsors and customers with distinction, creating greater value for them and increasing your career growth and satisfaction. If you can make this dramatic, risky leap to being a service-based project leader, you will find a much more meaningful-and lucrative-career in project management.

As people who are passionate about project management, we are obligated to unleash the potential power of project management knowledge to reshape our organizations into better ones that serve society and their employees. We all benefit greatly from the combination of both authentic leadership capability and competent project management. Whether it's a home project or the transformation of an entire business, project management is an essential life skill as well as a valuable skill for any C-level position. Continued, meaningful leadership development experiences starting within the project management ranks can enhance and accelerate your career, and provide substantial benefits to your organization as global markets continue to accelerate organizational change.

Unfortunately, the leaders in charge today are taking the safe route of selling "the process," not "the people." We must develop ourselves as strategic leaders if we are to grow professionally and fully realize our individual and collective potential to impact the world around us.

My goal for this book is to instigate change through you, by providing a practical guide through which to move from project manager to service-based project leader, using self-directed leadership development. My hope is that you will take ownership of the tremendous potential of combining project management capability with a purpose you believe in. I hope that this will lead you to move beyond project management knowledge and tools to true service-based project leadership and to position yourself for greater leadership opportunities within and outside of project management. In the end, this is a call to action for project managers to mobilize into customer-focused, service-based leaders who will leave a legacy of positive change in the world.


About the Author

Principles of Mobile Computing and Communications
From The Strategic Project Leader: Mastering Service-Based Project Leadership by Jack Ferraro. Auerbach Publications, 2007.

Listen to Jack talk about the stragetic project leader.

Read the foreword by Jim De Piante, PMP, Executive Project Manager, IBM

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© Copyright 2008 Auerbach Publications