We need leaders, not just managers

David
Taylor offers guidance on how to succeed with the projects that are essential
for taking us into the new business age

 

One year
ago, I wrote about how, when I first came into IT, four out of 10 projects
failed to happen on time, did not meet the needs of the company, or cost too
much. Business and IT leaders were unanimous that this figure had to change –
and it has. It is now eight out of 10, and that does not include those projects
that we have brushed under the carpet or declared a success despite the fact
they have delivered very little.

 

If we are
to deliver in the next business age, when speed, complexity and virtual working
will increase, something big has to happen. And this is where HR leaders can,
and are, playing a huge part, because the key to successful projects comes down
to one thing – people. Given the choice of an outstanding team on a project in
difficulty, or an average group on a project on-track, I would take the former
anytime.

 

Over the
past two years, I have had the good fortune to work across a wide range of
companies and e-projects and I am now convinced that we need to alter our
approach to projects at a fundamental level.

 

As I
write, I have a marketing flyer for a project management course next month – it
is a sad document. Before I share my thoughts on this with you, please do me a favour.
Close your eyes and think about someone in your team or department who delivers
every time. Think of a person who you always call when the going gets tough, in
the times of crisis; someone you know who will never let you down, ever.

 

Now think
about the skills they have and the attitudes and behaviour they display. I
would imagine you are thinking of the following:

 

– Communication,
Leadership, Persistence, Inspiration, Motivation, Focus, Action

 

Now I
glance at the flyer – it talks about:

 

– Process,
Internet, Technology, Prince2, Risk reporting, Project management meetings

 

This is
the reason we are in the state we are. To me, it comes down to one thing – the
need for project leadership, not project management.

 

The second
list is important, but not as key as the first. It comes down to the character
and talent of the person you select, over and above "traditional"
views on how to deliver projects.

 

And this
mismatch between what people think is important and what works continues when
we recruit. Too many companies advertise for project managers with specific
experience, "who have consistently delivered quality systems".

 

When
recruiting a project manager, look for:

 

Scars:  I ask people for the biggest mistake they
have ever made in a project. If they say none, it is goodbye. The deeper the
scars, the better.

 

Communication:
 Forget the project, are they looking
directly in your eyes when they speak, are they confident, is their head held
high?

 

Radical
thinking:  Remember, if we do what we
have always done, nothing will change. Forget "out of the box", does
the candidate think as if they were on a different planet? If yes, hire them.

 

These
skills are needed for all areas of a company, hence the potential power of HR,
which  can look across an organisation.
HR can turn that around by changing the way we run them, by appointing leaders
instead of managers, and by giving them freedom to do what they have to do to
get the projects in.

 

David
Taylor is president of the association of IT directors, Certus

david.taylor@dtaltd.co.uk

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