Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Project Managers: Stop Managing Projects!

What is the number-one problem project managers face?

Insufficient resources? Hardly. Scaled down, bootstrapped-up projects get notoriously great results.

Fickle client/management expectations? Grow up. If you're in the business of pleasing clients, make them happy. If you need to get things done, learn to tell them when they're getting in the way.

No, the biggest obstacle to successful projects is too much management. Nine times out of ten, the manager who thinks like a coach ought to act more like a referee. It's better to spend time giving people goals and measuring results than to spend that time nitpicking over details and quibbling over techniques.

Historically, the most successful projects are the ones with the least management. Not the worst, the least. Great managers lead, but most managers simply manage. The difference? They're both out in front, but leaders are moving ahead, while managers just get in the way.

Who really manages projects that way?

  • Andrew Carnegie, son of a peddler, once the richest man in the world: "Here lies a man who was able to surround himself with men far cleverer than himself."
  • Jack Welch, who led GE to become the largest company in the world: " Don't manage - lead change before you have to."
  • Peter Reade, co-founder of the Heifer Project, a charity that empowers others to escape poverty: "We listen to what people want and teach them how to do it."

But what about me?

Can you do it? Could you try? Every project that takes more than five minutes can be broken down into simple steps. Why not carve out a small segment of a large project, and turn people lose? Instead of step-by-step instructions, try a timeline, a goal list, and a question: "Can you do it?"

The answer will be a pleasant surprise.