The Pioneer Post

The Pioneer Post is a resource for online students that provides tips and information about distance education.


Monday, June 16, 2008

By: CJ Walker Waite, PhD (May 2006), PMP

Project Managers are increasingly expected to be more than “Implementation Specialists”. There is an expectation that they will have the aptitude to apply consulting and entrepreneurial skills by identifying opportunities, leading requirements definition, and managing stakeholder expectations to ensure project success. Davidson Frame (author of the New Project Management) defines these new responsibilities as the “New Project Management,” where the consulting aspect of project management revolves into more of an entrepreneurship realm. Project Managers are now expected to have refined people management and communications skills, be keen problem solvers, and be capable of sophisticated risk management. This is particularly true in an international setting, requiring both an awareness and ability to effectively manage the nuances of cultural norms, which is critical for communications and managing project teams. In addition, the Project Manager of an international project is faced with unique challenges and risks, and therefore creativity and an Entrepreneur mindset can be very effective in overcoming barriers.

Although Entrepreneurs are also expected to have excellent communication, problem solving and risk management skills, a key distinction is in the way Project Managers and Entrepreneurs interact with “the team.” Unlike Entrepreneurs, who are not touted for their team management skills (as a rule), Project Managers need to have an ability to foster “team perseverance,” and be able to function effectively within the corporate bounds as both excellent team players and motivators. The Project Manager cultivates and develops the team, whereas an Entrepreneur only sees the team as a means to a specific end and does not perceive any long reaching development of personnel. Within an international project context, the Project Manager is often the cornerstone of ensuring corporate objectives are understood and adhered to across the globe. Using creativity with a blend of project management discipline, the Project Manager can improve communications, build virtual teams, and create high performing teams by recognizing the advantages of cultural differences and seeking creative ways of achieving results.

A few of the attributes of an Entrepreneur are identified above, but let’s consider a more comprehensive collection of attributes, as defined by John Kao in his book The Entrepreneur, to determine how his 11 common characteristics relate to the Project Manager:

Total commitment, determination, and perseverance
Drive to achieve and grow
Opportunity and goal orientation
Taking initiative and personal responsibility
Persistent problem solving
Realism and a sense of humor
Seeking and using feedback
Internal locus of control
Calculated risk taking and risk seeking
Low need for status and power
Integrity and reliability

These characteristics are desirable for any colleague, regardless of whether they are also Project Managers. The question is how these traits might be applied within a project management setting, as compared to an entrepreneurial setting.

The First Distinction is recognizing what is different between the disciplines of Project Management and Entrepreneurship. Project Management is a methodology and process from the initiation of an idea to implementation. In fact, within an international project setting, the basic concepts of project management are universally recognized and therefore project management can serve as the common language for the team. On the other hand, Entrepreneurism is the way in which an individual interacts with their world, their willingness to take risks, initiate something new, go it alone, take full responsibility for the outcome, including design of the work, not being tied to rules, processes, or even methods. Consider then a pardox:
If the nature of an Entrepreneur is not to be tied to rules, processes and methods, then how can project management as a methodology be of value to an Entrepreneur? Conversely, how does a Project Manager whose basis of success is measured by the ability to follow rules and attain the triple constraint adapt an entrepreneurial state of mind?
This leads us to the Second Distinction, understanding the nature of an Entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are often described as dreamers and idealists who possess a high degree of optimism, which carries them through when 85% of the time their ideas fall short of their vision. Their perseverance and hard-driving nature are driven by a self-imposed necessity to succeed, and their commitment to their objective is paramount because they will not spend time on anything to which they are not 100% committed. Entrepreneurs prefer to rely almost exclusively upon their own initiative, and their greatest satisfaction is gained from independence and autonomy over any measure of security that might be offered through a corporate structure (these are eagles - they don't flock together…. rather than geese, who have an instinct for flying in prescribed patterns). However, where entrepreneur’s cross over into the realm of project management is in the execution of their ideas. An entrepreneur needs to be more than a tenacious idea generator, they also need to have a keen sense of how to implement their ideas, and be outstanding negotiators and politicians.

Therefore, it is during Implementation where the Entrepreneur can benefit from the knowledge and skill of the Project Manager. Traditionally, Project Managers have been expected to be control and tool experts, mastering the areas of scheduling, budgeting, allocation of resources – essentially adhering to the triple constraint. However, because the Project Manager generally has an executive advocate known as the Project Sponsor, they are not alone in bringing the project to fruition. They are also not expected to create new opportunities, ideas or generate new projects, but rather are considered the arms and legs of the Project Sponsor, who is responsible for this function. The lack of power and responsibility afforded the Project Manager, in juxtaposition with complete accountability, has been one of the greatest obstacles for Project Managers in their implementation role. However, it is because of this lack of overall control that a Project Manager must rely on the skills of an Entrepreneur in terms of being an outstanding negotiator and politician. This is particularly true in an international setting where there is greater likelihood of having multiple Project Sponsors with varying agendas.

The Third Distinction, understanding the nature of the Project Manager. Project Managers are often described as pragmatic implementers who readily adhere to a process, framework and who have the tenacity to reduce uncertainty and increase the likelihood of a successful project outcome. The Project Manager functions within a prescribed methodology, and strives to control all outcomes by keeping precise records and control of every detail of the process in order to reach the outcomes, which are defined by someone else. The Project Manager is committed to the project outcome, and therefore their focus and reason for existing is to meet the Project Sponsor’s expectations. However, where the Project Manager crosses over into the realm of the Entrepreneur is when they are expected to go beyond an implementation focus to incorporate all aspects of project idea generation, implementation and follow-on opportunities. As such, the Project Manager becomes critical in project definition, managing client expectations, controlling project execution, and then defining additional opportunities when their project concludes.

It is the drive, tenacity, and “can do” spirit, as well as the opportunistic nature of the Entrepreneur that is of value to the Project Manager, but which needs to be adapted to fit into the realm of project management. This is prevalent in the way in which the Entrepreneur considers the “sense of self” as compared to that of the Project Manager. Whereas Entrepreneurs tend to be exceedingly competitive and self-oriented/focused, if a Project Manager becomes overly competitive and self-oriented they will not attain the requisite buy-in and support from the organization (including the project sponsor) that is required for project success. Within an international project setting this can become quite a challenge because by its nature, virtual teams need to have a sense of independence and proactiveness, yet taken to an extreme the project could divide into multiple facets. Virtual project team members and the Project Manager do well developing an Entrepreneurs “sense of self” and belief that they can make anything a reality, given the semi-autonomous nature of being in a virtual team. However, this “sense of self” can also be an important contributing factor to the perception of “failure.” Entrepreneurs see failure as a learning tool, and thus expect to encounter failure (actually more frequently then success, thus they play the odds). On the other hand, Project Managers (and the virtual project team) are not in a “trial and error” environment, but rather have been given an opportunity to implement something to which the corporation has committed time and resources and confident that it should succeed. Therefore, Project Managers are held accountable for absolute triple constraint attainment, and failure to attain this is considered negatively within the organization, and certainly an indication of an individual’s poor project management skills and abilities.

To understand the paradox, it is necessary to recognize the balance and value of the attributes of both the Entrepreneur and the Project Manager for corporate success. Therefore, corporations must define and recognize what they specifically want to promote when they encourage their Project Managers to behave more like Entrepreneurs, because in its purest form, a true Entrepreneur would not be a good Project Manager. However, the nature of most corporations is to follow a pendulum game that is prevalent throughout business – if things are not going according to plan, then it must be time to change, and that change is generally the opposite, rather than a modified version of their current state. It is because change is perceived as progression that logically a more dramatic change equates to more progress. This, however, is very detrimental to the overall goals of a corporation: to increase market share, develop economic viability, and create a sustainable environment. This focus on balance between Entrepreneur and Project Manager attributes is emerging in corporations through Strategic Project Management and Project Portfolio Management, which by definition recognize the strategic and tactical requirements for successful business operations, including the implementation of projects.

A good model for defining this balance between culture and infrastructure can be realized in the Eight Basic Principles defined by T. Peters and R. Waterman in their book, In Search of Excellence.

1. A bias for action: a preference for doing something – rather than sending a question through cycles of analysis.
2. Staying close to the customer.
3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship – breaking the corporation into small units and encouraging people to think independently and competitively.
4. Productivity through people – an awareness of best efforts.
5. Hands-on, value-driven, insisting those executives keep in touch with the firm’s essential business.
6. Stick to the knitting – doing what the company does best.
7. Simple form, lean staff – few people in administration or at the upper levels.
8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties – fostering a climate where there is dedication to the central values of the company combined with tolerance for all employees who accept those values.

So what is the answer to the Paradox? Balance. As such, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That is the heart of the pendulum game; you always come back to center – or you will always eventually find that balance, at least for the interim.



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