Charles Smith, an experienced project manager turned organisational psychologist, has performed a fantastic analysis of how successful project managers actually do project management compared to how they tell us they do it. In the process he has discovered some very useful ways of thinking about projects and the role they perform in organisational life. In particular he notes that successful project managers have an unrecognised project-craft that they call on to aid the delivery of the ‘formal plan’.
I highly recommend this very readable book which is currently on special offer from the Gower website (details at end), and meanwhile have picked out 10 juicy gems of insight and wisdom that resonated with my experience:
1. Project managers need to help the organisation develop a local language for talking about change, above and beyond prince2 language – talk of swimlanes and stop/go gates doesn’t cut it.
2. Projects are about managing uncertainty and complexity; they create stories of order to help keep chaos at bay.
3. The project is not real; it is a social construction.
4. It is useful to think of negotiating amongst tribal loyalties rather than the blander ‘stakeholder management’. This highlights the morass of divergent agendas, cultures, identities, priorities, power-plays and affiliations amongst which you are trying to form commitment and conjoint action.
5. Tribal identities are strong and permanent; project identities are weak and temporary. Projects are political alliances.
6. Project action and talk is all about sense-making.
7. Project artifacts – diagrams, maps, risk registers – are physical enactments of sense-making and are important for this purpose.
8. Sense is driven by identity, therefore the project manager needs to know people affected by, or involved in, the project in a meaningful way to be able to influence or negotiate with them.
9. The risk register is a political document reflecting power and choice, not a neutral record of fact.
10. A project is a social process.