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The Project champion in a maturing organization - A paradoxical position

Eric MAURICE, PMP

In the beginning:
There are organizations where there is no longer a need to sell project management. In these organizations I expect project management to be the most efficient, because project managers can fully focus on doing the right projects right. In organisations where project management is still partly considered as an unnecessary overhead, the task of selling project management appears to be much more challenging and time consuming!

"Project managers" are often appointed with misaligned roles and unclear responsibilities. This harms the project management image as these project managers are not yet fully competent and often lack the needed skills. Let us have a look at those courageous project managers and how they sell project management - It is full of chicken and egg dilemmas - that remain valid even in project management mature organizations.

A few project manager's dilemmas on selling PM:

To sell Project Management you need legitimacy that can often only be acquired when project management is well established, and successful

To become a good project manager these immature project managers must invest time in self- development while their lack of competencies forces them to spend more time on their projects. There is then little energy left to champion project management.
Talking about energy, much of it is dedicated to overcome project management opponents wherever they are located in the organization.

The project manager must be able to use diplomacy (or acquire influential competencies) to convince. Legitimacy is a lever that could decrease the amount of energy required to convince. So in order to sell project management, project managers must ensure they acquire the respect of key people in the organisation. This can be done via training, certification, experiences, success stories, publications or by association with an executive sponsoring project management.

Often there is a mismatch between PM maturity level and expectations of the organisation. Management want to have rapid, visible productivity and efficiency improvements, whereas the project manager has a long (quantitatively) development road to build. This is quite common in a project manager's life after all: The product and its benefits are needed yesterday…There is no secret: project management champions, whatever their techniques and strategies, must have extraordinary competencies. The last paragraph gives some hints and possible approaches to be able to be(come) such a champion.
Spend effort on developing and acquiring competencies while at the same time you need more effort to manage your projects.
In order to build trust, PM's have to act professionally (or become actual professionals - the debate is not so important in this paper). The PM needs to become top class to be able to drive sustainable project success. Logically this means they have to develop their competencies while at the same time they have to manage their projects, and also while they are working to convince organization of their added value.
To do so, they need to join or build communities or centres of excellence not only within their organization but also within existing project management communities. This will be an enabler for them to gain knowledge. For an inexperienced project manager the amount of knowledge to assimilate is huge and thus a second dilemma can be identified: The project manager needs to acquire knowledge and experience to become top class, while due to his lack of experience, he certainly has to spend more time on running his project.
The consequence and recommendation is to try to keep PM champions under control to avoid collateral damage. For example if configuration management is introduced and it is done by somebody not fully understanding the reasons, advantages and drawbacks of it, change averse people will easily shoot it down, making later attempts to introduce CM more difficult. PM will also need to develop their influencing skills as selling PM throughout the enterprise is actually being a change agent. Also a project champion could see his project failing and therefore loose credibility.
Books like Who moved my cheese?  and Our iceberg is melting   offer good strategies. Highlighting early success will help capture the interest of large parts of the organization because continuous improvement leads to a focus on benchmarked success stories Additionally, PM must be seen as a community, rather than being perceived as DON QUICHOTTEs each fighting their own windmill. Jim De Piante would certainly mention the "lone ranger"   instead and would highlight the importance of building a solid network. Project management must be sold to all parts of the organization in a consistent manner by advocates with a solid knowledge of the subject and who are able to show the real value-added of project management. NXP is a good example: through the impulse of a few individuals, project managers gathered into local forums themselves gathered in an international network.
Spend more time on projects while you need more time to sell project management
In maturing organizations the project manager faces multiple challenges. The first of them is the need to focus on projects  and manage them properly. Whatever project managers put in place, only project success can be proof of the added value of Project Management. Considering projects success ratio we must consider other means while waiting for sustainable success…
PM's demonstrating their added value increase their workload substantially on top of project work. Extra effort is required to communicate on what and how they are doing to gain trust of functional and executive management. Once trust is established, those activities become less time consuming and may be less relevant for the PM community. This is a crucial step in PM's mind: as long as they have not demonstrated that their role is crucial to project success, their job is endangered. Should an economic downturn come, they would be considered as unnecessary overhead (again) that should be removed. This is the first dilemma we can mention: The project manager must demonstrate the added value of his function, but doing this can hamper the quality of her or his work (as requiring extra effort and time)…which endangers the demonstration of her or his added value.
The consequence is that not all project managers must sell project management. What is expected first from them is that they effectively and efficiently manage the projects they are given.
The proposed approach to sell project management is to identify leading project managers in the organization as PM champions that will carry the voice of the community.   Little respect for and knowledge of PM may be found in the companies where it is required to sell it, therefore at first, the messages impact will depend more  from the champion credibility than their message content.
To sell project management, PM need to refuse to manage projects without knowing exactly when they must refuse.
Focusing on projects without required competencies is risky: Newbie project managers (I consider myself as one of them) assigned to important projects because there is nobody else in the organization able to drive it, can have drastic consequences: The project manager in question will be identified as the reason for the failure, not the manager that decided to assign an insufficiently trained PM's. And there another dilemma can be identified: In order to sell project management, project managers (newbies more than experienced ones) must learn to say no to projects that they cannot manage while they do not know yet what projects they are able to manage.
Patience and negotiation skills must be qualities of PM to overcome this dilemma. It requires time for mindsets to change. The step from "We want the product today, [please] execute" and "We want the product today, what do you need to make this happen?" occurs. I have witnessed it!
So You Want to become a (PM) Champion?
Let us first start with a tale according to Giusi MELONI . Methodology!
Before the mankind forgot the actual name of things, there were magicians taking care of the well being of all creatures on the earth. After 24 centuries of research and practice the Pacific Magicians (PM) accumulated an incredible amount of knowledge so they had to spend a long time to study and had little time left to practice. One of them (Of course his name was MERLIN), stand back and thought: "We need to find a way to accelerate the knowledge and competences acquisition to free more time to take care about our creatures". Shortly after, he started his research at the detriment of his assigned tasks. He was then considered as a poorly skilled PM and the creatures he was supposed to take care of complained. He nevertheless persevered on his way and invented the Portable book Case. This helped PM a lot at the beginning but as they benefited of it the PM created even more knowledge… He then continued his research and created the Personal Demon Assistant. This helped a lot at the beginning but in the end, created again more knowledge to integrate. Same was valid for all his creations amongst which: The Mind Cartographer, The Pacific Magicians Inter-temporal Congress or (thanks to alchemy) a new substance called Caffeine. When he finally found the way to absorb all knowledge at once during another night were he abused of caffeine…he died. As he did not invent Configuration Management nor Lessons Learned nor Communities of practices, nobody was aware of his latest discoveries and they got lost… People do not like unhappy ends, but people also always see risks where there are also opportunities. There are many morals to draw from this tale. I leave it to you to find all of them, but here are at least the ones I would like to clearly communicate through this paper.
-    "Science sans conscience n'est que ruine de l'âme " wrote RABELAIS, which could be translated by Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a pure waste of time. The accumulated knowledge must be used otherwise it is not worth accumulating it.
-    If you think this is not a happy ending, instead of considering the Merlin's only, consider the whole Magicians community and think of the progress enabled by this single person for the sake of the entire group.
-    Be aware that you must do what people expect from you in first place if you want to keep their respect. Do more on top of it, not the contrary.
Coming back to real life, the PM by themselves can make use of several tools to overcome classical project management difficulties. The difficult thing will be to overcome the barriers to investment and carefully balance what needs to be acquired versus its efficiency. Three axes must be explored:
"    Development of individual competencies: Learn to free time and be able to be a champion without getting burned out after the first week.
o    Learn about time management and time optimization techniques (for example: by learning speed reading techniques   or learning about time management  and management optimization techniques .)
o    Learn from others via networking, conference participation.
Do this in order to free time that will be dedicated to PM promotion and further self development. When was the last time you wondered how you could learn faster? When was the last time you did?
"    Acceleration/consolidation of the PM competency acquisition - become an actual project manager, but help others to understand what project management is.
o    Offering PM courses to the organization -not only project oriented people.
o    If successful experienced PM's are available within the company "highlight" them or turn them into pillars for groups of interest within the company to promote project management.
o    If not, find experienced PM's via sub-contracting or adapted hiring policy to have project management selling leaders but also to have some project management references that project manager can copy or get inspired of.
o    Target a certification to gain some legitimacy and overcome or reduce some barriers.
In order to rapidly show first successes and secure what is granted, ensure you acquire some of the best in class, to be able to show early success and do not mislead the organization. Remember, PM is not a new discipline, acquire knowledge and expertise that already exists. Building (it) by yourself would require too much time and could lead to dead ends.
"    Acceleration of legitimacy acquisition: Demonstrate first success to consolidate positions.
o    Influence: finding a high level sponsor to promote the cause of project management by setting high level objectives
o    Becoming recognized by external PM community via article publishing, certification or congress participation
o    Becoming leader on project management field by proposing innovative ways of managing projects or publishing papers.
This is a continuous process that becomes easier over time.
Again spending energy is not free and while devoting time to leverage the company view on project management the involved people take the risk of being perceived as not sufficiently focused on the execution of their projects or even their own careers.
Conclusion
As a conclusion, we could combine all dilemmas into one challenge: the person that wants to sell project management in an immature organization has to be more than excellent in his own time management and also have a huge energy reserve. He certainly can find some help, but he must be able to stand back and think for not being captured in an overtime work spiral that will hamper his efficiency.
For sure patience and perseverance are two required qualities and before being a project management champion he needs to be first and foremost a super change agent. It is up to PM to convince their discipline adds value, reduces development time and maximizes benefits. Those concepts are indisputably unifying people in organizations and are keywords understood by key executives . Showing the link between project management and those keywords is the purpose of the capable PM Champions described in this article.

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