There are many methodologies a project manager can utilize when tackling a project, such as lean, agile, or waterfall, each with its own benefits and proven track records. While these are important to know, it does not negate the project manager’s biggest role: leadership. Leadership can make or break a project and is the most difficult to master. There are many leadership books and principles that one can follow to be a successful project manager, but the three things that I find most important to project success are providing the purpose, decentralization, and building trust within the team.
Conveying the purpose of the project, also known as “the why,” is quite possibly the most important thing that a Project Manager can do. A significant amount of work is applied in establishing what the project is (scope, deliverables, work breakdown structure) and points the team in the right direction, but this does not give them the reason such an effort is undergone. Again, all of this is necessary, but it is important that, for each task, the project manager provides the following: when, who, what, where, and, most importantly, why. Knowing this information, the team can work off intent when faced with something that is outside the scope of the project and when forced to make decisions on their own. If they assess the situation and determine action is required and a decision needs to be made, they can leverage their knowledge of the project’s purpose to guide them to the desired result.
Decentralization is putting the onus on that team member to come up with his or her own plan to accomplish the task. This is done by providing them only with the information they need to get started. If you noticed in the previous paragraph, when tasking out a team member, the project manager does not provide “the how” with each task. In this way, the project manager is empowering the individual to implement their own strategy to accomplish the task within the constraints provided. This practice of decentralizing project work gets buy-in at all levels through team member participation while reducing the workload of the project manager, who can quickly become incapacitated if micromanaging all tasks associated with a project.
Trust within a team is key to a successful project, and if you honestly implement the prior two tactics, you will find that trust will build itself. Providing “the why” without “the how” will show that you expect that the team will execute tasks and in turn, there is an expectation that the project manager will not micromanage. The team members will own their tasks and its success or failure will be in their hands. This type of relationship does not happen overnight though and takes the understanding of all parties in how the system works. When implemented correctly, it shows that the organization trusts that each member will do their part.
These three things, providing the purpose, decentralization, and building trust within the team, are what I find most important to project success. There are many leadership principles, and to me, they are all connected to one another in their implementation. These three, however, are a manner of accomplishing work and build upon each other. It ultimately develops employees that are well informed, initiative driven, high performers, which is what every organization should desire.