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11.12.2015 09:48

Holistic Project management – start doing it now!

Teppo Nurminen

In my training profession I hear the same statement time after time. It happens early into the day, the minute people open their mouths for the first time, presenting themselves: ”I’m a project manager in a few projects, I think, or that’s at least kind of what I do. I mean, I’m not sure if they are really ‘projects-projects’, but I feel I’m kind of responsible for them.” 

After posing a few more questions it turns out that the person indeed isn’t sure if he or she is the real manager of the project – and there seem to be a few other suspects, as well – but his or her responsibilities certainly sound like those of a project manager, if not more. So, the maybe-project manager tries to manage maybe-projects, without knowing what his or her maybe-existing rights are. Needless to say that these maybe-projects with their maybe-managers usually fail miserably (with no ‘maybe’ involved).

But where does the authority a project manager needs in order to succeed really come from?

The word holistic stands for something that is complete, comprehensive, or integrated. A good project manager takes “everything” into account, juggling all balls in the air simultaneously, right?

Over time I have concluded that even the most experienced project manager can turn out to be quite a novice when it comes to leading people instead of just managing tasks. Leadership psychology isn’t an exact science, and there aren’t any technical devices to measure the quality of interaction. However, the people we work with can still evaluate the quality of our leadership. To do this, we use Peili™ Behavioral Style assessment, which is a highly functional, yet simple and comprehensive tool used for evaluating leadership capabilities.

So what do I actually mean by comprehensive, or holistic, project management? This is one way to illustrate it:

Holistic PM W900

The project management lifecycle (the grey boxes at the bottom of the picture) consists of steps and processes well-known at least by professional project managers. Project management models provide tools for initiating, planning, controlling and closing a project. But where does a project manager – or, say, a project owner – find an equal model for leading people?

The foundation for project managers’ mandate to manage a project has to emerge directly from the project management model itself. The model has to unambiguously describe what the project manager’s responsibilities are, and more importantly yet, what his or her rights are. What’s more, also the project manager’s leading role must be clearly supported by the same project management model.

Leadership skills don’t come with some “manager costume” that can be dressed on whenever needed. It is important to adopt the rights and responsibilities, but the role shouldn’t be a mask you can hide behind. The role is supposed to be merely a supporting tool for succeeding in the leadership task.

Internalizing the basic role will help us understand how we can motivate and commit people. In the picture, motivating is connected especially to the project initiation phase; the initiation process should give us guidance in motivating project members. The project manager needs to have a credible answer to the question “why does this project exist”. Hence, the initiation process should require describing the need for the project – the expected benefits and their metrics – before starting the actual project planning. Managing tasks and leading people should proceed hand in hand, supporting each other.

Respectively, project planning processes should support committing people, for instance by suggesting mutually shared workshops for project management planning. Open approach in dealing with problems, risk or obscurities builds trust. And without trust projects don’t “flow”, they just have to be kept running by force.

Even the most experienced and competent project manager shouldn’t manage projects all by himself, isolated from the team. People are led by appreciating their input and know-how from the very start of the project. Indeed, the fourth key theme of management is interaction. Leadership is about “walking and talking”; a project manager who is mostly sitting and typing is simply not doing his or her best.

In the graph, feedback is connected to the project closing phase, but naturally feedback should be delivered throughout the project. After all, the most effective – and the most affordable – way of rewarding people is simply to thank them for all the good work.

To sum up, leading people isn’t that different from interacting with people in any other circumstances, apart from being more explicitly goal-oriented. If we can interact with our colleagues on an equal level, appreciating and listening to them, while working actively and assertively to reach the project’s objectives, we can manage projects. Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it..?

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