Why Project Management is Not a Democracy

This Post was written by Bridge Technical Talent
Date posted: March 3, 2013

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carthage700x500The year is 216 B.C.  Two mighty armies face each other on the hills of Cannae, Italy.  On one side, Hannibal – the military genius – commands the Carthaginian army; on the other, two tribunes share the command of a Roman army outnumbering the Carthaginians almost two to one.

Within hours, the Roman army is completely decimated, despite its size and military might.  How was this possible?  Of course, a lot had to do with Hannibal’s military and leadership acumen, but what doomed the Romans most was the lack of a single point of command combined with a rigid and uninspired troop movement.

As a direct result of the battle of Cannae, the Roman military strategy changed forever.  A unified command was instantly seen as a necessity and was immediately implemented.  Led by veterans, smaller and more agile units were established and rapidly deployed in the field.  These changes gave birth to one of the most successful and precise fighting forces of the ancient world.

Project management implements similar strategies to those of a battle; it’s a battle where you depend on time, resources and technology to achieve the ultimate goal – completing the project within the client’s requirements.  For that, you have to make the following elements work for you:

1. A UNIFIED COMMAND SYSTEM:  Establish a single, unique authority, and avoid the confusion of shared leadership.  Even if you’re given the opportunity to work on one of those dream projects that could boost your career but your participation is conditioned on sharing leadership with another individual, simply resist the urge and refuse participation – the project is doomed to fail.  When failure happens, and it will happen, you naturally look for a cause.  Two individuals might think they can share command, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll share responsibility for the project, especially if failure is a strong probability.  On the contrary, they will blame each other during the project as well as after it fails.

2. TROOP MOBILITY & CREATIVITY:  These elements will also affect the outcome of your project.  Your group members should have a sense of purpose, an over-arching goal that needs to be accomplished.  Most importantly, you have to be the one creating that sense of purpose day in and day out.  You should also give them the latitude to take the actions necessary to meet goals; instead of reacting like robots, they should be able to actively respond to project events.

Finally, you have to motivate your staff in such way that it gives them irresistible momentum.  But before you establish momentum, you must have the talent to recognize the synergies of the group and to understand the structure and skills of your group.  You have to build mobility and creativity within the very structure of your group so that they can function on their own, adapt to fluid situations, and come up with solutions to possible problems.

Unless you adapt your leadership style to the weaknesses of your group, you will almost certainly end up with a break in the chain of command.  You are the one establishing the proper chain of command.  You are the one controlling it – it is your creation, and one that requires your constant attention and care.  Ignore it, and your project will fail.

3. COMMUNICATION LINES:  Finally, as Project Manager, you have to pay attention to the style, form and substance of your communications.  Vague orders are just as worthless now as they were 2,000 years ago in the hills of Cannae.  Pepper them with lots of minutia, and boredom will descend upon your staff.  Ignorance will soon follow.

It is critical that you are clear about the tasks that need to be completed.  You must know what you want before you ask others to produce it.  However, if your requests are too specific, full of details or even too narrow, then you will encourage people to behave like robots, and they will stop thinking for themselves.  If your orders are vague and halfhearted, then by the time they are put in practice, they will be meaningless.  Do not leave room for interpretation.  The tasks should be clear and have enough documentation that every group member understands what needs to be accomplished and, most importantly, why.

The successful Project Manager will master the art of walking the fine line of being a leader while juggling several other talents:

  • Never share command of a project.  You yourself earn and own the success or failure of a project.
  • Understand that, although communication is a two-way street, the final decision rests with you.
  • Establish a dynamic environment where troops strive to complete the project not because it’s their job but because they share your vision.

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Claudiu Geanta is currently a Sr. Project Manager for Precision Design Studios and has over 15 years of managerial experience in technology operations, systems design, software deployment and business development.

He lives in Burbank, California with his wife Andreea and their 16-year-old daughter, Bianca.

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