I remember last week’s Monday morning vividly as I sat down at a not-so-local bakery in the Arizonian desert with my iPad in one hand, a coffee in the other, and a piece of buttered bread on my plate. While reading The Morning Brew’s flattering praise of one company and speculation of the downfall of another — I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly makes one entity more future-proof than another.

I remembered a recent conversation I had with an innovator from a growing US bank, a few cases outlining acquisitions from IBM and Cisco, and a piece of Aaron Dignan’s book I read while on the airplane a while back (Hulse, T. (2019) “A Brave New World of Work,” Business Life (April), pp. 38–42.).

These are my thoughts on how the project manager role is changing:

  1. Project management is moving away from fulfilling standard metrics of success to focus on delivering great outcomes
  2. Not everyone should and can be project managers. A mismatch between projects and project managers can significantly impact the outcome.
  3. We need to cultivate an environment where failure is accepted and considered as learning opportunities
  4. Transparent project managers deliver better results because of their healthy behavior on data sharing and more gets socialized into their teams — as opposed to “Fox Hole” project managers.

The rules and expectations, under which businesses and other organizations operate are constantly changing as a result of social, economic, and technological developments. The businesses that survive are the ones with the ability to respond to said changes by building the new, killing the old, or iterating on their current product or service offering.

Today, we live in a world where both the creation and adoption of new technologies, habits, and practices are happening at an unprecedented pace. Hence, organizations are forced to actively seek to extend their market offering to better cater to their existing and new customers.

Understanding your organization’s market position is critical for your ability to respond appropriately to external changes. This level of understanding requires leadership capable of making good decisions which, in turn, is dependent on their ability to leverage high-quality data in creating a big picture overview of the organization and the extent to which its projects are being delivered.

“So in your opinion, what’s the role of a Project Manager?”

Managing these projects and their contribution to the organization’s mission is exactly where we find the spawn of the Project Manager Role. It’s been around for a long time, and we’ll be diving deeper into its evolution right now.

“Right, so project managers manage projects, and in doing so ensure their deliveries are within budget, etc. I know this.”

Well, as suggested, as our environment changes, so does the organization and how we perceive and evaluate success. Success metrics have, to a large extent, been driven by components like delivery time, budget, and scope. However, these metrics alone are insufficient in evaluating success on a larger scale. We’re moving away from standardized metrics to focus on outcomes.

“So what defines modern businesses and projects?”

Let’s take healthcare as a fun example. The healthcare sector packs immense budgets and is rife with purchases all over the place. Now, their accounting department is busy, but does that mean they should spend a million dollars on implementing SAP to speed up the way they purchase?

Depending on the applications you choose from the universe of applications SAP holds, it can take anywhere up to three years for a successful implementation. Now, you might see that money being spent extremely wisely or you might be spending your money very frivolously… which begs the question — can we afford to just waste money now? And that’s when you say:

“No, that’s what keeps causing our insurance to go up.”

With a closer look at the project manager’s role, they can defend the investments saying they need to be more cost efficient in accounting. Looking at what healthcare is trying to accomplish, a better solution would be to invest money in more pressing projects related to our desired outcome and rather see reduced accounting costs as a result of better delivery.

Put differently, in healthcare, let’s keep people out of hospital beds instead of maximizing our profits. That’s the only way to make healthcare fair.

Did you know that you could fly to Spain, get two hip replacements and live there for two years for the same cost of one hip replacement in The United States? Yup, see it here.

“Are you saying that the Project Manager’s role is simply to focus on ‘outcomes’?”

Though the act of managing projects haven’t gone through drastic changes as initially illustrated, we still see a change in the way we view and treat theproject manager role. Let us for a moment focus on project management as a responsibility of a job and save project management as a professional service area inside an organization for a later time (read here).

Despite Project Management being a professional field, or rather an industry in itself, we’ve seen countless examples of organizations making Project Management the only way for highly skilled workers to advance in the organization.

“But that makes sense? If you’re really good at something, you should be able to manage other people doing something similar…. right?”

You’re right, it makes sense, and sometimes it works really well! However, think of your own team at work for a moment — would you rather have Tyler or Kim as your manager? They’re both highly skilled, but one would probably do a better job than the other.

Product-Market-Fit”? I say “Project-Manager-Fit

It is true, some individuals perform exceptionally well in their field — that being software development or UI-design — but oftentimes, this expertise doesn’t translate to management skills. Giving managing responsibilities out like candy to well-behaved kids is essentially removing a great resource by giving them tasks they won’t necessarily excel at.

You can do whatever you want about processes and about trying to create good bowling lanes for people to be guided down. However, at the end of the day, project management is a human endeavor between humans — working with them, managing them, and communicate with them.

“So if I want to make big differences in my organization regarding project management I have to work with the people?”

Yes, that’s right. But there is more you should consider before making/hiring someone as a project manager. Mindset and detail orientation are among those considerations.

“And why is that?”

That is because we oftentimes find conflicts when you combine a series of detail-intensive projects with a visionary project manager — and the other way around.

As for the right mentality, we can see that Project Management has, in its nature of being a highly metric-driven profession with clear indications of success and failure, created a number of participants with a what we call a “Foxhole” mentality.

Foxhole Project Managers are fixated on the concept of success, and through that, obsessed with having their projects and themselves appear as good as possible at any time. As a result, you’ll find them closely managing internal and external project communication in fear of being crucified if the project doesn’t come out well.

This behavior and mentality are dangerous because there’s a real chance they’ll be socialized into the reporting team as well.

On the other side of the coin, we have the Transparent Project Manager. These are project managers who have confidence in their leadership and managers above them. They are very transparent about their project management process, about what they are delivering, and about when things go well and not.

“But how can you justify that people are one or the other? My manager doesn’t fit either of those two categories.”

I agree with you — people can’t possibly be sorted into two buckets alone. However, the traits are very specific, and I believe you’ll be able to identify some of these traits in your manager or his/her manager.

“Okay that sounds fair enough, but I’d like to add that there definitely are traits many project managers have in common. What are Project Managers “in a nutshell’?”

Everyone wants to be successful, and in their effort to achieve success — they fear to make mistakes. Sometimes, trying to cover mistakes and failures can cause more damage than addressing and fixing them with your colleagues.

Imagine you are the project manager of an important piece of technology at a large automobile company. After a few months of sales, you decided to run some tests with your engineers and discovered that a fault in your tech has caused the vehicles to no longer be in compliance with federal law.

As the project manager, you can:

  1. Announce the faulty technology to your managers and deal with it immediately, or
  2. Keep it a secret and hope no one notices.

The call is yours, but you might find that being open about what happened will benefit you and your company more than not. Doing so will stop you from producing more faulty products, result in fewer recalled vehicles, lower costs in repairs, and won’t hurt your reputation as much as confidently selling faulty products.

There are, however, two conditions that need to be met in every organization in order for people to speak up about this — accepting that mistakes happen and appreciate when they are brought to attention. Replacing the demonization of failure with the ability to consider them as learning opportunities could change everything. More knowledge and more transparency will likely deliver better outcomes — which is what we’re trying to achieve in the first place.

“But as a project manager, I can’t always know what’s happening around me… sometimes it’s simply not my fault.”

You know… I believe you. Looking at your company, I can see that your team is not given the right tools to report and share data with other teams in the organization appropriately. It seems as if your company hasn’t considered the importance of solid data architecture or even created a culture where participation in data sharing is considered!

“What happens when all this data accumulates in a vacuum?”

Well… one thing is that you as the project manager won’t be fully aware of what’s going on around you, or that you, working for a project manager, struggle to see any real progression in your work.

“So with all that being said, where do we stand and where are we heading?”

We know for a fact that our business world is transitioning from the “traditional” way of doing things (read: waterfall) to an outcome-focused approach (read: Agile).

In the wake of existing and emerging technologies, our customers have become more empowered than ever to influence businesses globally. Human-centered solution design is here to stay, an in that lies the implication that businesses are here to cater to their (potential) customers’ needs.

From a business perspective, what does that mean? It means that we need to perfect our ability to:

  1. Understand ourselves and our market,
  2. Prioritize time and resources,
  3. Make quality decisions; and
  4. Innovate effectively and efficiently.

The best part? This isn’t even far fetched. Achieving this state depends on our ability to leverage our aggregate level data and build innovation that support desired outcomes.

Project management is a key component in doing so, and in that regard, we must cultivate an environment based on transparency, information sharing, and project-manager-fit.

Great decisions are based on great knowledge, and as Confucius put it:

“To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge” Quote from: BrainyQuote

Use those words to explore and understand your business, your capabilities, your people, your failures, your projects, and everything else. Doing so will enable you and your business to prosper and deliver the outcomes you originally sought out to create.

Read our other article about project management’s role in Black Market data.

Written by Dennis Kristoffer Høier Hoel