I’m told Proctor and Gamble does an amazing job of measuring its innovation assets. Its chart of accounts, for example, can track the cost and revenue of every fragrance the company develops. Oddly, though, there’s no equivalent way to track the profitability of flavors.
That’s right, there’s no accounting for tastes.
Speaking of partial solutions, last week’s column advised that alignment of goals is more powerful and reliable than specification of responsibilities. Decades of experience on both sides of delegation affirm the value of this perspective.
But it’s incomplete. Decades of experience also tell me that you can’t manage a project unless everyone on the project team knows what tasks they should be working on each and every week, when each task should finish, and what “finished” means. And that the project manager has to verify, each and every week, that the tasks that should have completed did, in fact, finish. Sounds like specification of responsibilities.
So what’s the deal? Is project management so different from other leadership situations that the same rules don’t apply?
The answer is the difference between leadership and management. In leadership situations, goals are broadly stated and success can come in many forms. They’re organic. Project situations are, in many respects, more similar to processes, where schedules interlock, specifications are the goal, and deliverables have to mesh. They’re mechanistic. And as Admiral Grace Hopper put it, you lead people, but have to manage processes.
If you’re the CEO of a large corporation, you might establish strategic goals for the business such as increasing sales by 10%, achieving a more uniform public perception of the company’s brands, improving margins by 2%, and building the organizational capability to release ten new and successful products to the marketplace every year. The Senior VP of Sales recognizes a personal accountability to: Increase sales by 10%; do so without violating brand image; train the sales force in how to sell new products, and structure commissions so as to avoid cutting into margins.
As CEO you’ve established common goals, and the responsibilities of Sales Management, Supply Chain, Manufacturing and so on in achieving them. If you have to establish week-by-week plans for each area and personally oversee them, you’ve hired the wrong executives. If they can’t work independently when appropriate while working together whenever necessary, you’ve still hired the wrong executives.
Now imagine you’re managing a software integration project. You can’t simply establish four broad project goals, align the project team members to them, and expect anything useful to happen. Each team member depends on the others to deliver work products that fit together according to a precise design, and to deliver them when they’re needed.
This doesn’t invalidate the principle of aligning project team members to goals — it means you have to apply it differently.
If project managers were exempt from the principle of delegating goals and aligning everyone to them, they would define all tasks and the overall schedule themselves — a terrific way to give every project team member a perfect excuse for missing deadlines.
With goals in alignment, the team members responsible for each assignment develop the work plans for their achievement — work breakdown structures and timelines they can commit to. As project manager you assemble them, connect the interdependencies, and fine-tune the schedule with the whole team so everyone agrees the entire project is feasible.
Alignment to a common goal is also a big part of making sure work products fit together instead of simply meeting the letter of the specifications. Since it’s a team, its members compare notes instead of working in vacuums. When managing a project, establishing a common goal and aligning everyone to it is what makes the project team a team instead of a committee.
But even with goals in perfect alignment, project managers have to review everyone’s progress every week. With the best of intentions and the hardest and smartest work, risks do turn into reality, the unexpected turns into the inevitable, and, sadly, some project team members turn out to be unreliable.
That’s a fact, and when facts and great ideas collide, the great ideas don’t stand a chance. The tight coupling of activities within a project means projects have to be managed as well as led.
In a way, that’s too bad. Because while leadership requires more courage than management, management is harder work.