When you really think hard about it, everything we do of any relevance is a project. With the exception of repetitive processes, e.g. bookkeeping, whether it’s creating something from scratch, manufacturing a product, on-boarding a new employee or pitching to a new customer, all these activities require resources with certain competencies to carry out tasks that have to be scheduled to produce a desired result within a timeframe and budget.
What does this this mean for organizations?
Understanding that operationally an organization is, in fact, a network of projects helps us see organizations in a completely new way. It means we can free ourselves of the artificial limitations of a traditional hierarchical/functional organization structure. This doesn’t mean, as we’ve said before, that we have to throw away completely the notion of hierarchy – we need to understand it differently. Instead of a vertical structure with silos that prevent the work of organizations from flowing as it should, we have various levels of projects that dip into the pool of competencies available within the organization as they are needed. In some projects a person will be a project manager, and that same person might lend their competencies to another project as a resource. The ‘hierarchy’, then, is of responsibility: the bigger the project the greater the responsibility of the project manager. The CEO, in this context, becomes the project manager of the project managers.
What does this mean for project managers?
The organization as a network of projects is a model that requires first class project management. It needs project managers that have much more than a certificate for a technique. They must have a deep understanding of what it means to manage the complex human activity of projects, (see. How Can We Solve the Urgent Crisis in Project Management?’
PMs have to be conscious of the fact that resources are not infinite and errors often occur in project management because this is not taken sufficiently into account. In the Theory of Constraints, projects are scheduled based on the finiteness of resources and this is called “Critical Chain,” as opposed to the well-known “Critical Path.
Critical Chain requires PMs to understand that wrong behaviors and mental habits like multitasking and putting issues off until the last minute (“student syndrome”) slow down artificially the completion of projects. We must not protect individual tasks but the project as a whole, so there should be no milestones.
Another critical threat to project completion comes from delays caused by resistance to the change the project brings and conflicts arising from it. This is where the PM needs to be a much more rounded professional figure, capable of working with people to develop what we like to refer to as ‘intelligent emotions’, to overcome resistance to desired change and finding win-win solutions to inevitable conflicts. For this purpose Dr. Goldratt developed the Thinking Process Tools. In other words, Project Managers become some of the most important resources that an organization has within it.
Sign up to our blog here and shift your thinking towards broader, systemic possibilities for yourself and your organization.
About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management and author of the business novel+ website The Human Constraint . This downloadable novel uses narrative to look at how the Deming approach and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore, founder, and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York.