I believe that in a few years time, the Project Manager as we know it, will go away. There will be hold outs in slowly changing industries (defense for example), but on the front edge of the economy, in the newer industries, the Project Manager is going away.
This is something to take note of – it doesn’t mean that we Project Managers will no longer be useful. It means that in order to hold our jobs, we have to adjust our thinking, our paradigms, about our role in relation to others and about the value-add we bring to any organization.
Manfred Saynisch’s article in the PM Journal talks in detail about this upcoming shift.
I’m starting to see things differently because of it. I’m starting to see my role differently because of it.
This is a long post. For those who don’t want to read, I’ve summarized in these bullet points:
- Traditional project management methods are failing due to the complexity of the systems in which projects find themselves.
- To be successful, Project Managers should start to adapt to complex systems; moving from controlling to influencing.
- This is a difficult, but necessary change and expansion of the Project Management role.
Traditional Project Management Vs. Complexity
Manfred Saynisch is the key author of Project Management Second Order (PM-2), a new framework of thinking about Project Management that was published in the Project Management Journal in December 2010.
Saynisch explains that projects are goal oriented endeavors that operate in a context of larger self-organizing, evolutionary systems. These larger systems are evolving at their own pace.
For example, a small company (the ‘system’) progresses towards its goal at a pace that’s influenced by many causes, both internal and external. The pace resembles evolution, with gradual growth, occasional shocks that send it shooting off in one direction or another. A complicated network of interrelationships influence this context, and put the stops on it, or send it careening forward. Different entities within the organization have different stocks* of power and energy and thus the company organizes, and then re-organizes (self-organization) based on all these things. Predicability, even in smaller companies, is really difficult.
Intense Organizational Complexity - the Army Force Management Model - Click for details
Enter the Project Manager who has been taught to develop a schedule, to control all the internal and external forces, or at least manage them so that the goal can be reached.
Our methods usually employ single cause controls (such as controlling for individual risks and issues, or stakeholders), and assume a linear time progression to the project which we capture in a schedule. We seek to aggregate the amount of time it will take to accomplish tasks, so we can estimate finish times, and to start and stop the processes just when we need them to. The methods operating in the project are a far far cry from those operating in the system that the project finds itself in!
Inevitably, we bump against the self-organization evolutionary methods that exist in the system.
We call them corporate politics, or the market, or commodity prices, or new home starts, or consumer confidence and we evaluate who has certain stocks of one thing or the other – who has influence and power, for example, in order to try and control how the system affects our projects.
Sometimes we are successful. A lot of times, we fail. We fail because the system is moving at a rate that doesn’t work for our project, the self-organizing, networked, multi-causal system will not bend to controlled methods, such as schedule management, issue management or stakeholder management; methods that evaluate single objects and seek to influence those objects independently, without analysis of the many many environmental influences that object is subjected to in the system.
Brand New Worlds
Yes – its complicated. Actually – it’s complex.
The New PM Worlds
Saynisch’s model introduces a new way of thinking about Project Management. He is suggesting that the way in which we currently manage projects, which he calls PM World 1, Traditional Project Management, is characterized by the following:
- A Project Manager external to the system
- A Project Manager seeking to implement controls on the system
- A sense that there is a linear, logical progression to events
- A sense that objects in the system can be controlled through various methods
- A belief that there is usually one cause, and therefore one effect. Control the cause, and you control the effect.
World 2 is about acknowledging and understanding the complexity of systems. He calls this world ‘Complexity Management’. World 2 is characterized by the following:
- A Project Manager who is inside the system
- A Project Manager who influences the system, rather than controls the system
- A sense that events are evolutionary and non-linear
- A sense that objects in the system have their own flow and organize themselves
- A belief that there are multiple causes and therefore multiple effects. And that you cannot control most of it.
The future, Saynisch indicates, is in the ability to develop processes that mimic the self-organizational, multi-causal flow of complex systems while simultaneously accomplishing the goals of the project. Its about encouraging the development of patterns and self-organized structure, gently nudging the system toward the goal, rather than enforcing rules and applying structure.
We must migrate from EXTERNAL CONTROLLER OF EVENTS to INTERNAL INFLUENCER OF PROCESS
Saynisch also proposes 2 other PM worlds. World 3 – The universe of Human Behavior and World 4 – The universe of Ground Rules and Ways of Thinking. These are important to explore as well, but I’ll save that for another post.
World 1, Traditional Project Management, doesn’t go away in this new model. Instead, World 1 provides the description of the system. Traditional Project Management is like the glossary where you learn; what is a Stakeholder, what are Activities and how do they work together, what is a Risk. Traditional Project Management knowledge is also a how-to manual and toolkit that are used to influence the system. Traditional Project Management provides the tools and knowledge to know how to build the processes.
And World 2, Complexity Management, encourages the PM to think about building self-sustaining systems and processes, where people are provided the tools for self-management, where actors are taught to reference principles for self-guided behavior, and where processes are networked intelligently to produce desired outcomes.
He writes “Finding the proper balance between complexity and traditional management will be the future management art.” page 8 Project Management Journal, December 2010
Finding that balance is more than just a bit hard. Its daggone difficult. But, and this is why I’m even writing this post, I think it’s the only way to build really good projects that work in the future.
The new PM must phase out control, and increase influence
The difficulty comes in on a personal level. When you are used to acting externally on a system, when you are used to the control role, letting go of it can seem like a career killer. The difficulty also comes in on a method level. In this new view the methods that are the most important; the ability to influence, the ability to strategize, the ability to think in systems, the ability to encourage the adoption of principles in others, seem nebulous. Where do you learn that?
And not only is this difficult, there’s indication that Its also the way to keep your job.
I don’t know about you, but this article Google Facing a Significant Reorg with Managers on the Firing Line scared me. It read to me like Google was eliminating pure Project Managers and indicating that they had built internal self-sustaining structures and principles such that people managed themselves.
“Google will be moving away from a structure with centralized managers and towards a structure where engineers run individual units.”
Witness as well, the rise of Agile, where the PM provides influence and direction from inside the system. The team decides the schedule, and that schedule is not wholly predictable from iteration to iteration. Agile has built in acknowledgement of the multi-causal, dynamic, non-linear system. Or Kanban, where teams of people set up systems that reveal bottlenecks and are encouraged to solve them together as a team. No pushy PM needed.
Maybe this is why Forrester analysts are suggesting that the “Next Generation” Project Manager have both World 1 and World 2 skills.
Mary Gerush writes “Next-generation project managers still have a sound understanding of project management best practices (pm world 1), but they also have updated soft skills focused heavily on people, team building, and collaboration, and they understand how and when to adapt processes, practices, and communications based on context (other PM Worlds)” Mary Gerush, Forrester, Define, Hire, And Develop Your Next-Generation Project Managers
You may be saying to yourself ‘What’s the big deal, soft skills have always been a part of Project Management?” What’s different is that this is not just about soft skills (as in getting along with people), but about migrating from external controller of events to internal influencer of process “based on context”.
Does the Google example indicate what’s valuable on the market? I think so and I think it’s this.
In the new world, the ability to influence a self-organizing system to move in a more effective, productive manner is more valued than the ability to bring in projects on time and under budget.
Influence not control. It’s about understanding that your goal is to apply what you’ve learned in your PM toolkit towards the development of processes that both incorporate good PM methods, but also can sustain themselves without you.
For example, instead of building a change management process that starts with a change management plan leading to a weekly meeting of a change control board, you instead seek to define the effects that certain changes will have on the system. You then train the team to recognize these effects so that they know a change is needed. You then encourage them to decide on changes based on the principles you’ve taught.
In this example, Traditional Project Management tells you that changes should be managed. That’s the influence of World 1. Then in a very World 2 type of way, you build a process that communicates the ‘why’, that teaches change management principles to the actors in the system, and then allows the system, the teams, to self-organize and decide on how to use the principles. It’s expected that in this new milieu the original principles will evolve. So what you’ve really added in then, is the thought ‘changes should be managed’, which derives from World 1. But you’ve released the ‘how’ to the system and by release, you also allow the idea to evolve to what the system can handle and resolve.
For anyone who plays the game Osmos on the Ipad, you can see this in action. The balls move in a complicated dance and you, the player, are the nudger in the system. You are trying to reach a goal and the only way you can succeed is to gently nudge and push objects that are already moving. This game is not about lining up the balls in an assembly line – its about observing the system and knowing how hard and how long to push.
Take a minute to watch the Osmos video to see what I mean.
Think About It
I think it’s important to give this some thought. Figure out what skills you bring with you from World 1 and then think about where and how you’ve practiced World 2 skills. Think about those times when projects have gone completely off the rails and what skills you used to bring them back in. Think about the processes you built to prevent that from happening again. Think about the teams you’ve mentored to do great things, and how you influenced them, and what remained, what was sustained after you left the project.
Within this thought process, you’ll start to find your skill set, those areas where you are strong. You might then start to focus on those areas in preparation for shifts in expectations about your role that I believe are sure to occur.
* For more on Systems and stocks, read Donella Meadows Thinking in Systems: A Primer