Project Managers are responsible for coordinating and managing budgets, resources, schedules, and stakeholders. But who manages the Project Manager, and why? The role assigned to manage the project manager will determine the effectiveness, agility, and competency of the subordinate. This can have both negative and positive impacts depending on the following project characteristics:
- Scope of responsibility
- Breadth of existing competencies
- Ability to remain agile and flexible in response to changes
- Impact on the communication, coordination, and supply chain(s)
- Nature & complexity of the project
- Whether a waterfall or agile approach is taken
- Alignment of the team members, corporation, and resources in the pursuit of a joint mission
- Stakeholder engagement
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing a project management office, or the project manager. But it is often recognized that project scope that continuously changes, or cannot be defined in detail up front, is better served by an agile than a waterfall approach to project management. Micro-managing a project manager in a waterfall approach is easier although delivers less value whereas doing so in an agile environment may actually drag on key performance metrics. Both scenarios can benefit additional oversight that helps manage stakeholder relationships and communications, with diminishing returns in complex and agile environments.
As the need for agility and adaptability increases micro-oversight can actually diminish flexibility. The reason this is so is best explained by considering the childhood exercise of sitting in a circle and whispering a secret in your neighbour’s ear. As the whisper begins to make its rounds through the circle the message changes and content is lost. This is often heightened in complex matrix reporting environments where questions are frequently raised at each node in the network.
The potential impact of a distributed node network on communication, transparency, alignment, and coordination is a multiplicative with the above graphically depicted example having potentially 10,000,000,000 opportunities for confusion, miscommunication, and misalignment. The solution to these systems level problems can be found in identifying strategies to centralize coordination. The optimal model for coordinating network nodes can be depicted as follows:
Despite organizations to engage horizontal practices and reduce reinforcing hierarchical relationships of the past the following is often the compromise realized in modern corporations:
Whereas the former network arrangement is centrally coordinating insuring optimal efficiency and alignment the second arrangement still has 10 node connections (not counting the project manager’s individual contact points). The network often functions with the impression of efficiency and alignment but the opportunity for errors remains the same at 10,000,000,000.
Each unit of separation from the primary (project manager) node also impacts the project schedule, costs, allocation of resources, and goal alignment. Previous articles also highlight the impact of politics, empire building, and other conflict on the networks ability to function effectively. Considerable efforts are often required to support ‘stakeholder management’ that could have been avoided with more streamlined channels.
When developing your corporate channels to drive value through time limited and complex projects consider the following questions:
- Who is involved?
- What information do they need to remain successfully engaged?
- How many nodes ‘must’ be involved to maintain successful engagement?
- What efforts are needed to insure the network remains agile and responsive to environment & project changes?
The last question is often unanticipated but is no less important: Does the network know there is a project manager? If not, why not?
Network decisions and engagement can be improved by considering the composition and structure of the network. But this will neither make a bad idea successful or insure unaligned nodes will stay engaged. What is needed is a node network that is built with a systems thinking and business modelling mindset to insure interlocking mechanisms, processes, resources, and values are engaged throughout the project’s lifespan.
What steps has your company taken to streamline and align coordination channels? Share your comments below.
Travis Barker, MPA GCPM
Innovate Vancouver is a business development & consulting service and technology startup located in Vancouver, BC. Contact Innovate Vancouver to help with your new project. Innovate Vancouver also gives back to the community through business consulting services. Contact us for more details.