The Mythical Project Manager: Part 2

In Part 1 of the “Mythical Project Manager” series, we discussed how today we find ourselves at a crossroad. Our organizations are demanding agility yet our traditional project management education is deeply rooted in the doctrine of “control”.

Today, we already see a backlash against this traditional project management in areas such as software development. Not that I agree with it but notice how the agile movement has all but eliminated the role of the project manager in Scrum. Some may disagree with this statement and say that the scrum master plays the role of project manager. I disagree with this view but this is a whole different conversation.

While the agile approach to project management, at least in its Scrum implementation, is not the answer, I do believe that this is a sign that a growing number of organizations regard traditional project management as unresponsive to their growing challenges and need for agility.

So what is the project manager’s role and what can and should be controlled?

Looking at our new project world from this vantage point, we should see the project manager’s role as “master collaboration engineer” not “control and compliance police”.  Otherwise, we risk becoming “out-of-touch” with those we are trying to serve. Only an “out-of-touch” project manager will try to control any of these factors in a world when organizations are looking for agile and adaptive leaders.

Our role should not be to try to control any of these factors, but rather to facilitate conversations around them so the right decisions are made, at the right time, and by the right people. As to be expected, we don’t always start these conversations from the same page. That’s why we are needed because we bring to the table our facilitation, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills. At the end of the day, the quality of the outcomes of our projects will be determined by the quality of the conversations we facilitate.

Our job then should be to create an environment where the best conversations are held for the best decisions to be made. In other words, what we can control is the process of problem solving, decision making, and collaborating to achieve a common understanding and agreement vs. control.

The only thing that we project managers can really control is ourselves and even that is a challenge. This is a challenge because most of our responses are unconscious and automatic and they influence our project decisions, whether we like to admit it or not. They get triggered by various social threats (our sense of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness). Being mindful of these threats, and regulating our responses to them, are the most critical “hard” skill a PM must develop to effectively lead projects. All other project control skills depend on mindfulness and self-regulation. No other PM skill matters if you are operating in auto-pilot mode. This area is the next frontier in leadership development for project managers. More on this in future posts.

What I learned over the years is that when we are humbled and brought down to our knees by project complexity, we realize that any notion of control is but an illusion; a fallacy. The 1st step in achieving project management mastery and “turning pro” is letting go of the need for control altogether and developing our capacity for mindfulness and self-regulation.

In future posts, I will dive further into the topic of the “Mythical Project Manager” and how project management must evolve to adapt to today’s changing business environment.

In the meantime, what’s your take on this topic? What’s your opinion, experience, or philosophy? I welcome your thoughts and input.

If you like this post, you might like to read the series:

The Mythical Project Manager: Part 1 (Intro)

2 Responses to The Mythical Project Manager: Part 2
  1. [...] The Mythical Project Manager: Part 2 Tags: Leadership « Previous PostNext Post » [...]

  2. Don Kim
    September 11, 2012 | 8:04 am

    I totally agree that to be an effective PM these days requires being much more of a “master collaboration engineer” and less “control and compliance police” (I think it is not possible to not have to enforce this especially if you work in a highly regulated industry, e.g., medical, aerospace, etc.). But to do this effectively means you will in fact have to be a mythical PM ironically, because you would need all the skills that the mythical PM has at his/her disposal!

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