From the Archive -> Engaging Leaders in Project Management

A callout to a post from last year, for those who might have missed it.  We will be talking more this week about executive leadership and project ownership, so this will be an important foundational piece for the next few posts.

When you oversee a large number of projects, one of the most telling, and yet blindingly simple, metrics you can track is closure rate. For every project you successfully complete, how many die on the vine? If you’re using a defined methodology (DMAIC, PDCA, stage gates, etc.) you can drill down further and see what your fallout rate is at each point.

The next step is to ask why. It’s likely a systematic issue, as I’ve encountered repeatedly in the past.  And the system that falls apart most often is ownership.  The song goes something like this…

“Betty, you are a high potential, high performer.  We’d like you to get some project management/Lean Six Sigma/TQM/cross functional experience.  Please find a project that would interest you!”

***Time passes***

“Betty, you are a high potential, high performer, and we’re going to promote you!  Your project?  Oh…um…well, no worries.  We’ll find someone else to run it.”

***Time passes***

“Hey, whatever happened to Betty’s project?  Did anyone finish that?”

We look to our developing leaders to make a difference and drive projects.  In reality, though, the only way to really deliver value from a project is to have someone at a high level who cares about the result to make sure it is achieved.  In that spirit, here are a few simple methods I’ve found to help get those leaders engaged…

The leadership team picks the projects

Ideally, projects are driven by strategy.  As your business objectives are drilled into action, you should have a clear line that tells you how each project aligns to overall goals.  Each one should have a defined deliverable, and failure to execute should mean the risk of failing to meet the business goals.  If this puts a leader’s bonus at risk, so much the better.

Projects look for team leaders, not the other way around

Project leaders are chosen AFTER the projects.  Unless you create a project that is so good it can’t be turned down, you shouldn’t have to dig up development opportunities.  Being choosen to lead a mission critical project team should be an honor and a reward, not a burden.

Part of being a project leader is exposure to the leadership team

Project leaders report on progress to their leadership team.  Obstacles are openly discussed, and the team breaks them down together.  Open reporting and discussion breeds engagement with leaders, with then breeds expectation of results.

Leading a project should not be something you do alongside your “day job”

Just like any other quality/management system, these projects should be part of how you do your job, how you make it better, and how you deliver your results, not extra work on top.  When it becomes a second job, you start to lose your best team leaders.

If you are a team leader, make sure your projects are coming from the right place.  If its too late for that, then spend some time marketing the potential impact and make someone on that leadership team care about your project.

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