In the last week I spoke with three new project managers. They were all in organizations that practiced limited or no project management. Each was frustrated with how hard it is to be a project manager where the boss just wants to get stuff done. The boss says “we don’t have time to do project management!” You’re thinking “we don’t have time not to…” What to do?
Did this happen to you on your wedding day? Older married male guests catch you alone, put their arm around your shoulder, and share a nugget of wisdom that will ensure wedded bliss. It happened to me. Not all were nuggets of gold, but one was.
A longtime friend of my new wife’s parents, slightly dazed with libation, caught me in a corner and said something like this: “Glenn, you know that marriage is a partnership; that you need to meet halfway?” I nodded. “Well, the secret to making it a great partnership is to always give 51%.” I nodded again and smiled. It made sense then and it’s been an enduring guide for me for the last 39 years.
But, what does this mean on a project? Our job is to give 110% as a project manager, right? We want to lead by example and give our all to solve the problems in front of us, right? Well, sort of. If we give 110% and our partners in change give 10%, it isn’t going to work. A new project manager may be coming from a place where he managed his own work well and is now getting a chance to manage others’. To do this well, the first step is to build a partnership toward a common goal that both parties accept. The goal may not be a long and happy marriage, but meeting halfway on a project starts with everyone involved getting to agreement, commitment, and accountability.
Giving 51% in this case may mean that you each agree to do your best to share the work and understand one another’s perspectives and challenges in making the change. The 50% means that you do your part and respect that your partner needs and wants to do their part in a way that works for them. The extra 1% is the effort you give to understand your partner’s perspective. The project manager doesn’t change things alone; he or she helps bring about the change through others by providing clarity, organization, communication, control, and closure. The project manager’s partners are the ones who have to change. They need that extra 1% of understanding.
You know I always encourage project managers to apply consulting skills. It applies here as well. Meeting halfway is a foundation of good consulting. The consultant isn’t as effective if she comes on strong as the expert (>51%) who will solve the problem. It may be exhilarating for the consultant, but it doesn’t leave behind a change that will stick and be sustainable. Also, the consultant isn’t as effective if he comes on as the servant (<50%) who will add value only by doing what the hiring manager says needs to be done. He gets things done, but doesn’t apply much of his expertise or fresh point of view. The foundation of good consulting is collaboration built on understanding, overcoming fears, communication, and trust. Collaboration means partnership in solving the problem or completing the project. The consultant brings technical expertise and support to partner with the client’s subject matter expertise, ownership, and long term interests in the organization. Giving 51% as a consultant fosters trust and collaboration that leads to change that lasts. And, this is what we want as project managers, too.
So, new project manager, as I put my arm around your shoulder and look into your eyes with an out of focus smile, the secret to your first project is to give 51%. Be patient, understand, bring a little structure, find what feels right, and stick with it. Pretty soon, if you are getting it right, both you and your partner will be giving 51%. Then you have something special.
Thanks for reading.
Copyright 2012 Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk”