How Good Project Managers Can Leverage Their Skills For Business Agility

June 22, 2022 | By Donna Fitzgerald

In the early days of Project Management, the only thing that mattered was results. The primary tools of the trade were instinctive risk management, systems thinking, and a strong helping of luck. And it was the opportunity to deliver change creatively and effectively that made all of that so rewarding.

Today, I believe we can recapture some of that alure. But to do so, we need to focus on two major aspects of the role:

  1. Prioritizing the ability to make tough decisions in real time over the ability to follow a process
  2. Recognizing that while the Agile Methodology can deliver software faster, it will never be able to solve complex organizational problems

Strong project leadership comes from leaders who know how to approach change, adapt to ever-changing circumstances, and maximize resources.

Organizational change with business agility

Successful project managers are the ones equipped with the skill of real-time decision-making. They’re the ones that get projects across the finish line. But if most CEOs today put agility as one of their top goals, why don’t we see more of it?

What is agility in business? The ability to compete and excel in your industry by responding to changes and emerging opportunities with innovative, digital forward solutions. (Source: https://www.scaledagileframework.com/business-agility/)

Let’s take a step back. Decades ago, a project manager’s standard promotion path usually included managing a project or a large program. It was a brilliant way to test drive project managers. If the person failed to deliver the result leadership wanted or, more importantly, proved to be difficult to work for, they simply returned to their day job after the project concluded. If they excelled at the assignment, they were promoted.

Business Process Reengineering (BPR) and the rise of the IT ecosystem, however, changed the nature of project management. As the number of IT projects increased, the job requirements changed from being good at making difficult decisions to being able to follow a process. The system no longer self-selected strong situational leaders.

“Business processing re-engineering is the act of changing an organization’s major functions with the goal of increasing efficiency, improving product quality, and/or decreasing costs. This starts with an in-depth analysis of the business’ workflows and identifying key areas that need improvement.” (Source: https://onlinebusiness.northeastern.edu/blog/what-is-business-process-reengineering/)

I believe we should reconsider this older roadmap. First, it’s a proven route to making organizational change where and when it’s needed without a lot of overhead. Second, it awards today’s project managers access to exciting new opportunities.

The power of solving problems

From all reports, approaches like Agile and tools like DevOps enables teams to produce software faster. But that doesn’t mean that it replaces the need for good project leadership. ADO cannot solve complex organizational problems. We still need people with the right mindset to make the required organizational change.

Your organization needs change agents that are wired to solve tough problems quickly. Want to become known as a successful change agent without giving up your current job? Volunteer your skills to small efforts in other areas of your company.

The goal is to become known as an individual who works well with others and knows how to get something done. As a side benefit, it will also increase your network within the company.

How strong project leadership paves the way to change

With natural project leadership skills and the right people, revolutionary change is possible. And it can be done without triggering the change resistance we most often see associated with a BIG change.

If you want to solve the highest impact “small problem” possible, consider choosing resource management. Why? Because when it’s done right, the business practices built around it can be the solution to oh-so-many problems. For example:

  1. The right people can be assigned to the right work for the right amount of time.
  2. See people as more than just their job titles. Right now, the only way to know someone’s background is to go to LinkedIn. We continuously overlook the expertise we have in our own company. This is not only wasteful, but also causes unnecessary turnover.
  3. Reskilling and upskillingare actually fairly easy when you work with people and can plan career development as part of their job.
  4. When people are engaged, productivity goes up. This makes it possible to get strategy executed by sequencing the necessary work to match the people available to do the work.

Adaptive project management and the right tools can deliver powerful change in a quiet, non-disruptive manner.

“People take the great ruler for granted and are oblivious to their presence.
The good ruler is loved and acclaimed by their subjects.
The mediocre ruler is universally feared.
The bad ruler is generally despised;
Because they lack credibility, their subjects do not trust them.

On the other hand, the great ruler seldom issues orders.
Yet they appear to accomplish everything effortlessly.
To their subjects everything they accomplish is just a natural occurrence.”

Tao Te Ching-  Translated by Hang Hiong Tan, (with slight updates)

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