“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen” – Michael Jordan
How does a great project leader Make Things Happen?
To lead projects to success, there are 7 factors that you need to be mindful of:
AWARENESS is the first factor. Organizations who ultimately manifest their goals through projects have a high level of awareness. They understand their business context, strengths, weaknesses and constraints. They have a well-articulated vision, have made choices on what to do, what not to do and know how to get there. They have assigned a project leader who in tandem with the visionary leader (see one of my previous posts) is set up for success by the sponsor.
The second factor is ASPIRATION. High performing teams that make things happen thrive on ambition. They deliver a new, top quality product and/or service, because the people who make up the team are committed and intrinsically motivated to be part of a game changing journey. Daniel H. Pink, a well-known author of books about business, work and management, says that motivation is coming from the inside. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are the new 21st century ingredients for leadership.
ABILITY to deliver is the third factor. A project leader’s primary responsibility is to build a team that is able to deliver results. What does ability mean? Think about values like: talent, skills, expertise, knowledge, patience, perseverance, leniency, capacity, mastery, cleverness, far-sightedness, keen and flexibility. The project leader is responsible to acquire the right mix of professionals and unlock, extend and apply their talents in order to meet the purpose of the project and career ambitions of the individuals. A great project leader is a great coach at the same time.
ALTERATION is the fourth factor. In order to reach the future end state that is intended to be substantially different and better than today, the organization must change. John P. Kotter, Professor at Harvard Business School and best-selling author, says that the key aspect of triggering that change is to establish a sense of urgency. Change leadership is a responsibility of the visionary leader and the project leader. Where the visionary leader is more focused on shaping and communicating the vision, the project leader is keen on embedding change in the organization by transforming people, process and technology in an integrated manner.
The fifth factor is ACTION. A project leader who wants to meet the purpose (vision, goals, objectives) of the project, has an action plan to get to the future state. He understands the vision (WHAT) and knows the primary and secondary pathways (HOW) to follow. During the execution phase everything that the project does is based on a well-communicated action-oriented-plan. Project performance is measured against the plan that is owned by all the key stakeholders. A successful plan has many layers of detail. At the executive level it is sufficient to have a ‘plan-on-a-single-page’ representing major work streams and key milestones. At the project level, the leader maintains a work package driven plan that can be broken down in many team level work plans. The lower you go, the shorter the horizon of the plans.
ALERTNESS is the sixth factor. Top performing project leaders implement a highly effective alert system into their day-to-day operations that avoid the project from derailment. These alerts are going beyond the common performance reporting mechanisms. The best alerts the project leader can receive, are obtained through verbal communications with many different stakeholders. The ability to build trustworthy relationships is therefore a critical skill for the project leader, because valuable alerts only come from trusted sources. Another key value besides trust is creativity. Once the project leader receives an alert, an instant response is oftentimes required. The ability to quickly propose alternatives to the right decision makers is at that point in time very important to keep things moving forward.
The seventh and last factor is ACHIEVEMENT. There are a number of things that are very important when project results come in: celebration, sustainment and continuous improvement are the key ones. Successes must be celebrated. Top project leaders create a positive, motiving and inspiring work climate where people deliver results that they can feel proud of. Empowerment, ownership, acknowledgement and affirmation are core ingredients of such an environment. Realistic project plans have quick wins that enable the creation of a project culture with a winner’s mentality where top talent wants to deliver, share and develop the best of the best. The other aspect of Achievement is sustainment. Projects deliver a new product and/or service that must be supported. Part of the achievement process is to ensure that the organization has the required sustainment capacity. The transition planning of capabilities is a joined effort of the project and business operations. Last but not least, continuous improvement (Kaizen). Organizations that are on an evolutionary path of prolonged change and who are successful in achieving goals over and over again oftentimes have a learning capability build into their organizational culture and project approach. Learning is being perceived as an investment and not as an expense. Great project leaders coach top talented professionals throughout the project lifecycle because they care for the organization, the team and foremost the people.
Bas de Baat
Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©