It’s Not About You

As project managers, our job is to bring project management to a project, not just a project manager.  Sure, it’s important to have someone focusing on the important work of building schedules, managing issues and risks, tracking progress, and coordinating tasks.  But, what if you have to be gone for a month?  Does the team continue building schedules, managing issues, and so on?

This question is making me think about myself as a project manager.  Continuing to read Geoff Bellman and Kathleen Ryan’s “Extraordinary Groups,” I am thinking about what I bring to the groups I work with.  (See last week’s post “Death March” for more on “Extraordinary Groups”).  Do I bring a project manager, project management, or me?  I think the answer, where I’ve made the most of my contribution, is all three.  If I’m doing it right, it often starts with me reminding myself that “it’s not about me.”

The first thing you bring to your new project is yourself.  Regardless of your approach, this is unavoidable.  Geoff and Kathleen describe this in their extraordinary group model.  Each of us brings the acceptance of who we are and the potential to do more to a group.  Being able to share this – being authentic about who we are – forms the basis for trust in a group.  Your team members become more accepting of what you have to offer that may be different than ideas or approaches to which they are accustomed.

Thinking about this at breakfast, my mail pops up today’s post from Dan Rockwell on “Leadership Freak.”  Dan’s post today overlaps a lot with this one.  He says “Carrying the load alone crushes; carrying the load together stretches.”  The core of the message is that being able to share the load with your team starts with having shared values.  Having shared values forms the bond on which your group can build the commitment to one another and your group’s purpose.  Geoff and Kathleen include Bond and Purpose as core parts of their model.  So, it seems we are all saying that your contribution to a group, like project management, will have a strong foundation if it’s offered in the context of shared values and respect for who you are and what you bring.

But, in the end, it’s not about you, it’s about the team.   So, as a project manager, you want to bring project management in a way that the team accepts and, ultimately, owns project management as important to its success.  You start as the project manager.  You bring project management processes and behavior.  The team uses this structure to identify their work, coordinate and schedule it, bring out and solve issues, plan and do effective communication, and think ahead to bring out risks and opportunities so that you act early vs. only reacting.  Then comes the scary part – letting go.

We like being project managers.  We bring structure, order, support, problem solving, and communication.  This is our role and we want to do it.  We want to make it happen.  But, if it becomes about us, we are doing less than we should be doing.  If our team trusts us, knows that we value the team and its purpose, then we can start letting go of project management as it becomes consistent and self-initiating.  This should be our goal from the first day on the project – to go from the embodiment of project management to its facilitator.  Project management should become part of the team as a whole.

I got to work with a great team a few years ago.  The project manager, a young very talented woman fairly new to project management, brought good training and experience in Agile project management to this software development project.  The team was in the tough spot of restarting a failed project and wasn’t familiar with Agile methods.   User stories, product backlogs, Fibonacci progression, multicolored sticky notes on a big board, daily standups and making team commitments to all the work everyone would be doing for two weeks was new stuff.  At first there was resistance.  But, as time passed and the team’s trust and mutual respect grew – as they developed common values – the consistent cycle provided by Agile skillfully applied became part of the team.  It was the just-enough-structure they needed to channel their efforts into productive work.

The project manager had to be gone for a month at a key point in the project.  At the next meeting, the team proceeded as it had without the project manager’s facilitation.  They selected tasks, wrote down details and potential conflicts, moved them across the board, estimated their size using Fibonacci progression numbers, and they voted thumbs up, sideways, or down about their capacity to commit to all the work identified.  If the team missed a step or got stuck, someone would stand up and become the project management facilitator.  The team needed what had been brought to them by the project manager more than the project manager.  But, they needed her, too.  Not as the project manager, as who she was.  When she came back, they were glad to have her back.  She brought a lot to the team – her willingness to ask hard questions, her patience and good humor, her insight to tough problems, and her dedication and support to her teammates and the cause.  She had brought herself, project management, and a project manager to the team; in that order.

So, ask yourself when you manage a project – am I making this about me?  Do you revel in bringing project management to the team so that you can make it work?  Do you think that you are essential and that your team would be lost without you?  Does your team embrace and engage in the key functions of project management because you make them happen or because they own them as part of the team’s bond?   If you leave, will the project management processes put in place continue or stall?   These are hard questions.  Answering them honestly and acting on moving project management from “me” to the team will help you find what can go right on your project.

When I start working with a group on project management or consulting, reminding myself that “it’s not about you” is one of the most important things I do.  I know, because I haven’t always done it and it makes a difference.  Give it a try.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk” 2012

2 thoughts on “It’s Not About You

    • Thanks, Darrell. Your appreciation of the people on your teams and your authentic interactions with them form a great example for me of what I am trying to say.

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