An Open Letter to Project Managers, the New Rock Stars

Project Managers are Rock Stars!
Image by Carlos Rocha

First things first: Project managers rock. You grease the wheels, pacify the resisters, solve impossible problems, and keep things going when everyone else wants to quit. You save our butts every day, and I thank you for it.

Here’s the thing, though. You’re shooting yourselves in the foot with the heroics. Yes, it’s fun to play Superman or Superwoman and fly in at the 11th hour to save the day. You get that adrenaline high, and you feel like the company couldn’t survive without you. Indeed, it can’t.

That is, of course, why it’s time to change.

There is simply too much at risk for companies to let so much depend on the project managers. Leaders have to be realistic. You could hit the lottery, retire to the Alps, and realize your lifelong yodeling dream. Leaders know that (except the part about the yodeling). If they lose you, they’re out of luck. So they are doing their best to make sure things don’t depend only on you. They do this by putting processes in place like CMMI, PRINCE2, or agile development.

How, then, do you keep your job?

Become a PM Rock Star

All it takes is a little shift. Instead of being a superhero, it’s time to be a rock star. Rock stars are part of a band. They don’t appear suddenly 10 minutes before a concert. They work with others over time to rehearse, solve problems, and find that special hook that sticks in your brain for hours.

They also work within parameters. Every time they sit down to compose a song, they’re working with scales and time signatures that have existed for centuries. Those scales serve as boundaries, and working within them fuels the creative juices. The very limitations of the form can spur innovation. When rock stars transgress, they do so knowingly and with great power and impact.

That’s your new inspiration. Be the rock star.

Here’s how you can rock your projects.

  • Stop resisting project management methodology. Yes, it’s a pain to create meeting minutes. But the methodology is there for a reason: to prevent you from reinventing the basics, such as catching up every person on what happened at the last meeting, so you can focus your attention on innovating where it matters. Let the methodology do its work for you, and focus on the freedom of creating within set boundaries.
  • Get creative within the methodology. Use the constraints as a challenge. How can you make something extraordinary happen while honoring the process? PMs are nothing if not excellent problem solvers.
  • Challenge rules that don’t make sense. Rules are there to be helpful. If they’re not, challenge them formally. Request a meeting with the project management office to talk about the specific rule, how it gets in the way, and some alternatives. Don’t simply stop following the rule. That’s being a rogue, not a rock star.
  • Break rules with finesse. There will be times when you will break the rules. When you do, make sure you’re breaking them in the interest of what’s best for your project. And make sure not to do it all the time. Break the rules infrequently but brilliantly.

Now go rock those projects!

Originally posted on Future of Work Enabled, 8/30/2012.

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