More on bridging the PM/Executive communications gap

I hope I didn’t scare you off the latest PM Network (September 2009) with my recent lament about a column (my lament is here).  The piece assumed that we still needed to convince PMs that they had to be business savvy. 

In fact, this issue is chock full of articles that assume PMs get that and want to get savvier.  One piece — Talking the Talk — hits on a number of recent Crossderry themes.  It echoes an earlier post about bridging the PM/Management Gap (here), but it speaks to the executive who wants to improve his/her communications with project managers.  The opening grafs hit the main challenge:

To the executive ear, project managers seem to be speaking an entirely different language.  “A lot of executives think project management is all Gantt charts and paperwork, so they tune those conversations out,” says Eric Morfin, partner, Critical Skills Inc., San Diego, California, USA 

My suggestion: take this article and use it to shape your exchanges with executives.  If you have a executive mentor,  “how to leverage these ideas” would make a great subject for your next chat.

Don’t PMs get that they’re “business” people yet?

I saw a somewhat depressing article in this month’s PM Network about the need for project managers to get business-savvy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with what Gary Heerkens writes (the article itself is here).  What saddens me is what this article implies about the mindset of project managers:

  1. Too many project managers don’t see “business understanding” as part of their job.
  2. This expectation isn’t explicit enough in PM job descriptions or how PM performance is managed.
  3. PMs seem to want the title, but not the responsibility. 

IMO, a project manager who can’t participate in business discussions can’t meet the substantive requirements of whole swaths of the PMBOK Guide.  How can a project manager participate in charter, scope, and change control discussions without knowing the business?  Otherwise, aren’t they really project coordinators, assistants, etc.?  As Gary notes (and understates):

Basing choices solely upon technical or functional considerations means all of the critical inputs required to make the best possible decision aren’t being considered.  Project managers who do not understand the business aspects of their projects are destined to make subpar decisions from time to time.

The unasked change control question

This change will be cool...it has fire.

This change will be cool...it has fire.

When evaluating change requests, I’ve seen many of the same questions asked:

Do we have the needed budget?
Do we have the right resources?
Have all the business partners signed off on this change?

More sophisticated approaches will also bring focus on the benefits, risks, and added complexities that the change will introduce.  However, I’ve only seen two change control boards ask this question:

What will we NOT do if we accept this change request?

In my experience, raising this topic clarifies much about the change.  First, it validates that the sign-offs referenced above weren’t simply a formality.  For example, I’m reassured when the requester can say that “we looked at these three options…” or “this scope change had a higher benefit than the other two proposals”.

This question also surfaces risks that the change will introduce.  In one case, I saw a very plausible change for a new entry screen proposed.  The costs, resources, and benefits were all in order.  However, the “what won’t you be doing” question produced blank stares.  A few probing questions surfaced what wouldn’t be done: the team has assumed away two weeks of testing effort to make room for the change. 

Request denied.

Project Management as “table stakes”

Regular readers know that I’ve been harping on the increasing importance of program management, especially when it comes to realizing the benefits or value of projects.  Project managers who simply run projects without reference to the larger business environment are becoming a commodity. 

During the recent Global Corporate Council forum, I heard two thoughts that illustrated the challenge for PMs:

  • Greg Balestrero, the CEO of the Project Management Institute (Greg’s blog is here), calls project management “table stakes”.  In other words, PM has become so widespread that it is no longer differentiating for an organization or person to be good at PM.  In Greg’s opinion, PM-only lets/keeps you in the game…no more.
  • One council member quanitified the value of the PMP in terms of experience.  He had to counsel a project manager who was very itchy to advance but was perplexed that his PMP hadn’t taken him further.  The council member put it to him bluntly: “A PMP is worth about two years of experience in our organization, which is something…  But it isn’t equivalent to leading and delivering a multi-year project or program.”

PMBOK 4th Edition — People Skills Appendix

I’m curious about what the updated PMBOK Guide will have to say in the new People Skills Appendix.  What it includes will set the baseline for the topic (BTW, I’m not expecting any earth-shaking inclusions or exclusions).  It is good that the PMBOK Guide to will start to address such an important topic in a greater degree of detail.

In the meantime, a group we’ve worked with before — the Center for Business Practices — has a couple of useful short books that address these topics (FYI, book descriptions theirs):

  • What Makes a Good Project Manager offers a clear and succinct description of what it takes to be a competent project manager. The essays, book excerpts, and other materials in this book focus on key personal skills and interpersonal abilities that lead to project manager success, such as mentoring, decision-making, facilitating, and communication. 
  • Project Management Roles & Responsibilities provides comprehensive descriptions of the responsibilities, skills, and desired backgrounds for project personnel to guide you in crafting job descriptions that are appropriate for your organization, or to rethink the ways in which you have assigned responsibilities to existing positions.
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