Does It Really Make Projects Fail?
I had to wonder how many projects failed for having a Project Manager ill equipped to track the earned value of the project. Maybe the compliance actions (read bureaucracy) suffers, however, I doubt the product or team does. Then I reflected on how many projects I have recovered where the Project Manager was spending too much time reporting to management rather than managing the people. The “M” in PM stems from the verb for the actions the person with this title should take on the project team.
In every failed project I have recovered, the Project Manager was not managing and certainly not leading. In too many cases, they were pampering their management, doing reports and making sure the boxes of their manager's spreadsheet were checked off to show measurable progress. They forgot, however, to see if there was tangible progress in completing the project's product. Was the team a team? Were they talking? Did the designs match the requirements? Was the customer getting what they needed? These were left unanswered.
For sure, there is a requirement to implement certain processes and ensure that compliance reporting is completed in a timely fashion. An administrator can accomplish this most efficiently. The Project Manager's job is to lead the team, even pamper them if necessary. They must make sure what is being built will provide value to the customer and the supplier. If this means change, then they must facilitate and manage the change. If there is significant change, they should come up with a new way of running the project to accommodate it.
Leading the Project
Process is needed, but managing and leading people is more important. Managers in and above the project need to extract themselves from their cubicles and offices and visit the team members, experience the project and see firsthand that it is running correctly. They must look for discontent, determine the reason for its existence and rectify the problem. They need to continually perform a low-level audit, ensuring people on are performing as planned.
What groups like PMI are missing is a focus on the human aspect of the job. Albeit, in later versions of the PMBOK® it is obvious they are starting to see the need. However, they are in a quandary because they cannot devise a meaningful test to sell for certifying an individual in leadership versus a person that knows what processes to implement. They can test for process and whether people know which box to check off or form to complete. The soft skills leave them at a loss.
Project Managers, and the people that manage them, should invest their time in understanding people, studying Organization Development (OD) techniques and understanding how to look at the project as a system. With this view, projects would run much smoother. As has been said more than once in this blog, “It's people, not process.”