Achieving through others

It has been said that a project manager’s role is to achieve objectives through the work of others.

In the sense that an IT project manager rarely does the analysis, the design, coding or testing him- or herself, that is true. A project or program manager has resources assigned to him/her for the duration of the project so that the manager has some control over what happens. The only way a project manager can – or should – be held accountable for the outcome of the project, is if he/she has complete control over the elements that control that outcome – essentially, the resources and the schedule. Impose an immovable deadline and assign or restrict the people who work on it and the PM is on a hiding to nothing. From that point on, the PM is spending most of the time covering his derrière or preparing to assign blame elsewhere. Not healthy for anyone.

But how, I have been thinking recently, does that differ from the consultant? What does a consultant achieve? How do you measure their effectiveness? After all, a consultant can only advise, persuade and influence. They have no people directly assigned to them to carry out whatever assignments they see fit. People in the rest of the company can choose to observe or reject the advice given. The consultant’s success is entirely dependent on his powers of persuasion, his influencing skills, rather than his control over schedule and resources.

My role is currently akin to that of the consultant rather than the project manager. I have no resources assigned to me to accomplish any tasks. My objective is to improve the way our organisation operates, specifically its agility (whatever we deem that to mean). This means I must influence, persuade, cajole, argue, even beg in order to achieve my objectives.

I am completely comfortable with doing this. I am comfortable speaking with new recruits, or CxOs, one-to-one or in a group, making them believe what I believe and persuading them to put into practice that which I am preaching. But it’s generally been up to them to put it into practice, whether they choose to or not doesn’t affect me.

But in my own part of the organization, I am responsible for improving agility through others. If we don’t, I am at fault. This I am uncomfortable with. It is not a part of my training. I am (through training and years of experience) used to being totally in control of whatever I am responsible for delivering. Not having that level of control but still being responsible for things makes me uncomfortable. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong; it just means it doesn’t come naturally to me. How is my success or failure going to be measured without simultaneously considering the success or failures of others? What part did I play in those successes relative to others? It is difficult to assess.

The crux of the matter, though, is that at this point in my career, I am being stretched to perform outside my comfort zone. It carries risks, but it also potentially carries rewards, not least in the shape of massive job satisfaction. I am motivated; I am determined. I will tame my tigers!

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About aterny

Agile enthusiast and evangelist, DSDM practitioner, trainer and coach. Specialist in Agile project and programme management, governance and organisational transformation
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