Project Manager: bureaucrat or innovator?

3D People Team Concept









Are you a bureaucrat, or an innovator?  Do you defend and maintain the status quo or lead groups into change?

Professional project management is in crisis.

I hear you what you’re thinking. “YOU’RE CRAZY!”  I know.  I know that the profession is growing and that standards are becoming the norm in companies. I know that project management has visibility if not respect across the world.  I know that major colleges are offering degrees in project management.  So what am I talking about?  What is this crisis?

Project managers are mainstreamed into companies now.  In most Fortune 500 companies “project manager” is a job title, not simply a description of a role.  Is this good?  You may say, “Heck yes.  We’ve been fighting for recognition and position for 30 years!”  Okay.  We have fought to be respected for the value we bring organizations.  But, what exactly do we have now?  Have we traded too much for respect?  For value?

Being a project manager is a step on the corporate ladder.  It’s not at the top.  It’s not at the bottom.   But, project managers are in the game.   Where is the project manager in corporate hierarchies? Project managers hold a middle position.  Project managers are now middle managers in companies.  And, they can rise only so far before these talented project managers hit a ceiling.

The profession of project manager is limited to the middle zone on the corporate structure.   Project managers contractors are brought in to fill a void in managing projects, because companies can’t keep talented people in the middle level management positions indefinitely.  In structuring this talent pool of middle managers and contractors, companies now structure the processes around project management more and more.  They use a model such as Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Book of Knowledge (PMBoK).  This model is a valid set of processes, tools and techniques that add structure to projects, but instituted into corporate structure that are already tend to bulge with middle management, this model breeds bureaucracies.

Project managers are becoming bureaucrats. We (because I am one) serve the corporate governance board more than our project teams.  This is not why I became a project manager.

When I started managing projects I was someone who could “get things done”.  I used a natural gift and experiences in life to lead successful projects.  I studied “classic” project management methodology as I worked and used what fit, discarded what didn’t.  I had a fairly typical experience for a 50 year old in this profession.

Getting projects delivered on time, on budget and with high quality was all that mattered.  Documentation mattered, but there was less CYA and more PTM (Product to Market).

By the way, aren’t projects about creating something that hasn’t been done before?  A new product?  A new application?  A new release?  A new building?  Right?  We aren’t managing the re-creation of a past innovative act.  We are leading a team of innovators;  This is what project management is all about.   The changes may be small, but the projects produce something unique, something new.

I went to my local PMI chapter meeting and the presentation was advocating getting leadership into project management.  My question is,  “where did it go?”  I think leadership is essential to project management, not an optional feature.  Leadership to innovation…by definition.

Project management is in crisis.  What will drive?  Who will we be?  In the next 20 years, will project managers be the agents of change?  Or will they represent the status quo?   The first step is to answer this question…Are you a bureaucrat?  or an innovator?