Saturday, 07 November 2015 12:22

The Executive-Project Manager Gap

Rate this item
(2 votes)

It was such an innocuous question, "Working on an article; what is the biggest problem you see with project governance at orgs? Can you comment?" Can I comment? Really? That is like cheese to a mouse. Where could I start—bureaucracy, draconian process, poor executive sponsorship, disengaged leaders? Plenty of fodder, because they all lead to project failure. I fired off, "Creating an over bureaucratic morass stifling innovation & implementing process instead of cultivating leaders." Then the maelstrom started and it went directly to the gap between the executives and projects managers. Naomi Caietti, Robert Kelly and I had a great conversation. Most of the thread is below.

The Gap

What gap, you say? The gap that happens in any project review where project managers come into the room with charts and graphs that say there are 243 tasks completed since the last review and 17 more falling behind schedule (due to 3 change orders ). The earned value is 11.3% better that the last review, but that could be because the offshore resources do not understand how to use the reporting tool. The estimate at completion is now 28.9% higher than reported three months ago due to the charge orders and the customer is anxious about their operations team really understanding what is changing in their processes.

The executives keep a steady gaze on the charts and, with a troubled look, the CEO asks, "Will we deliver before I have to announce the quarterly earnings and are we maintaining our margin?" The PM looks back with a blank stare.

I am talking about that gap—big, gray, and looks like an elephant.

The Problem

The problem is pretty simple project managers have no clue what an executive does for a living and the executive has probably never run a project. After all executives most likely came up from the sales, marketing, or operations. They were always on the receiving end of projects—the customer that got the project's deliverable. They had operational things to do.

Operations: the Antithesis of Projects

Let's remember the definition of a project a temporary endeavor to create a unique product or service. That is not operations. Operations never end (hopefully). Projects are temporary undertakings that add some new capability. They change the organization and, as what they are doing is new, they have risk. How many people in operations like change, risk, or both? Yep, none. Therefore, on one side to the table there are a bunch of risk averse, stay-the-course executives, while on the other side are project managers who like the temporary nature of their work, change is cool, and risk makes the job exciting. No wonder there is communication gap.

Unfortunately, neither party interprets this correctly. Project managers feel that executives do not think that project management has value. Executives think... well... let me give you a quote: "I hate being an executive sponsor. The PM comes in and spends ten minutes spewing out a bunch of techno-babble that has no bearing on how to run a business and then they want me to make some decision on what to change in the project."

What is Done Too Often

Some people (mostly my project manager friends) say the answer is to train executives in project management. Seriously? You are going to send your CEO to a PMP® or PRINCE2® prep-course? Others think you should add a PMO to translate the project techno-babble into executive speak. So they create a PMO, promote a couple of great PMs into the manager ranks, and you have the same issue as the people running the PMO are former project managers. Their solution is to interview the executives and find out what data they need and then filter every project status report to fit that format. The result is executives getting the wrong data as the real status does not fit into the PMO's "box." Still, no one knows if the projects are on target to support the corporate goals. This is why hiring outside contractors is so valuable in rescuing troubled projects—they cut through the filters

What You Should Do

The answer is role-appropriate education. Three actions need to happen:

  1. Capture how the corporate goals relate to each project. Disseminate this to everyone in the organization. Use a tool like balanced scorecard so that everyone from the CEO to the janitor understands how they are contributing to the corporate goals.
  2. Define the executive sponsor role with a formal job description and hire coaches (probably from the outside) that can work with the executive sponsors to make sure they are addressing the project managers' issues.
  3. Send your project managers to leadership training. This is far more important than methodology training (PMP or PRINCE2). They need to understand how to lead without authority. This is 80% of their job. They rarely have authority over their team and the never have authority over their stakeholder.

This will yield results beyond your wildest dreams. True failures will become a bad memory of days gone by, troubled and problem projects will diminish, communication will happen, people will be excited to come to work, your customers and stockholders will be happy, and your company will meet its goals. What else do you need?

Your thoughts?

What have you done to accomplish this? We would all love to hear!

Following is a excerpt of the Twitter conversation referenced in this article. Please feel free to reply or re-tweet any of these items and continue the conversation.
Read 30544 times

Related items

  • Strategy-Execution Gaps

    The statistics on strategy execution are dismal:

    • 59% of middle managers fail at resolving conflicts in corporate strategy.
    • 45% of middle managers cannot name one of the top five corporate goals.
    • 64% of cross department/functional issues are poorly resolved.

    And maybe as you could expect from this:

    • 53% of companies cannot react timely to new opportunities.

    You do not need to be a rocket scientist to know that this trajectory is not going to launch most companies’ latest strategic plans successfully. In fact, these data might make you feel that middle management would be better suited as test dummies for the next generation of manned space-vehicle. Granted, the data show there is a dearth of leadership in middle management, but executive tier has a culpable hand.

  • Success vs Culture

    The other day a Latvian student contacted me for my views the connection between culture and success criteria—an important and intriguing topic. After working in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Israel, United States, and Canada, I wear many scars of both blatant and subtle cultural violations. I also know that within a culture one person's success is often another person's failure. So, after dispelling concerns about clicking on some random email link, I completed her survey (please feel free to take it yourself). In the process, I struck up a friendship with the student, Kristine Briežkalne, who is studying at Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration . She has some interesting views and presented me with a Venn diagram showing four frames to a project (business, client, project management, and growth perspectives) and how they intersected. As the diagram is part of her Master's thesis, I will let you ponder the how to label the overlapping areas (an eye-opening exercise).

  • Kill The White Knight

    There is a reason we do not teach classes on fixing failing projects. Many a cynic feels that we simply do not want to teach our trade, however, our reason is far nobler—we should be teaching prevention rather trying to create white knights to save the day. It is the same philosophy as building a fence at the cliff's edge rather than an emergency room at its base. Our language is replete with idioms telling us to look past the symptom and address problems at their root cause. 'An ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure' or 'a stitch in time saves nine.' Please, feel free to supply your own in the comments. Unfortunately, most of our businesses loathe this philosophy, waiting to address an issue until it is irrefutably broken.

  • Disband Your PMO

    After nearly 30 years of project work, I struggle to understand the role of a project management office (PMO). Even though, I have written of the pros and cons, and read a plethora of articles, opinions, and how-to guides little has been done to convince me that the PMO is reducing project failure. It seems to be nothing more than a tool to fill a void in leadership? Even the acronym, which is so widely thrown around, has little meaning as the "P" has no less than four meanings. It is an executive's crutch for their lack of understanding in how projects work. These, like other, unattended holes in the corporate accountability create opportunities for new and greater bureaucracies and empires that further obfuscate accountability.

  • The Catch-22 of Organizational Change Management

    "Kotter, ADKAR, or CAP which methodology should we be using to build our approach to improving project adoption?" I hear this question repeatedly from people trying to implement an organizational change management (OCM) program. The problem is that is the wrong question. Take a perfunctory peek at any of the models and you will see that in the quest for an answer people have mistakenly jumped over the first few steps and they head down the road of failure. It is a Catch-22; unless you already have an OCM process in place, you will most likely fail at implementing it. Putting one in place, however, is a change—one of the most difficult cultural transformations your company will undertake. As a result, people jump to the solution stage, which is well down the change management process path (which, they did not know, ironically, since there was no procedure in place).

Leave a comment

Filling Execution Gaps

Available Worldwide

Filling Exectution Gaps cover

Filling Execution Gaps is available worldwide. Below are some options.


PG DirectLogo
Limited Time Price $20.99
Amazon logo
Book or Kindle
Flag of the United States Canadian Flag Flag of the United Kingdom Irish Flag Deutsche Flagge
Drapeau Français Bandiera Italiana PRC flag
Japanese flag
Bandera de España
Flag of India
Bandera de México
Bandeira do Brasil
Flag of Australia
Vlag van Nederland
DeG Press Logo
Barnes and Noble Logo
Books a Million Logo
Booktopia Logo
Worldwide: Many other
book sellers worldwide.

Rescue The Problem Project

Internationally acclaimed

Image of RPP

For a signed and personalized copy in the US visit the our eCommerce website.

Amazon logo
Buy it in the United States Buy it in Canada Buy it in the United Kingdom
Buy it in Ireland Buy it in Germany Buy it in France
Buy it in Italy Buy it in the PRC
Buy it in Japan
Book sellers worldwide.

Upcoming Events

Other's References

More Info on Project Recovery

Tell me More!

Please send me more information
on fixing a failing project.