Trust me, I'm a project manager
According to Oxford Dictionaries, the world has now entered the ‘post-truth’ era. This would appear to be a significant change. But we project managers smile slyly at the discovery the world has only recently made, but which we have known about for ages.
Consider the projects whose red/amber/green reports are full-on green right up to the point when the project crashes and burns, over budget, late and without deliverables. Or the wonderful way a phase can suddenly become a month late, overnight. Or how sponsors can confidently announce delivery dates without understanding the complexities. Or how organisations new to agile can have scrum after scrum and yet produce an untestable final product that can’t go to the full market.
Many of these come from ‘invisible’-type projects: those where progress is not obvious or easily measurable. Projects in this category include software coding, culture change, innovation, marketing and artistic endeavours. In these projects, asking the team, ‘How is it going?’ elicits a one-word answer: ‘Fine’. They may not intend to speak ‘post-truths’. It is more likely that, because of the invisible nature of the project, they themselves don’t know they are off track.
As the world moved away from being about purely local transactions and people began to rely on ‘strangers’ to provide their food and medicine, it became a matter of life or death to know the truth behind what you were consuming and buying. As a result, branding was born and thrived. First, with bits of hot metal on calves, and then on labels on bottles of medicine, so you wouldn’t get taken in by fake ‘snake oil’ salesmen, but could be sure that you had the genuine article.
Brands have now taken on a life and value of their own. Certain brands we automatically associate with a range of specific qualities that reassure us. In a complex situation where you have little time to decide and you are unsure of the outcome, a brand works as a shortcut proxy for the truth. In fact, the more uncertain and ambiguous the situation, the more likely people are to reach for brands they recognise or understand.
For many enterprises, the importance of their brand is significant enough for it to be reported in their financial results. Brands are also really significant for individuals. Just mentioning certain names conjures up a distinctive list of adjectives that you can be certain that person will embody. Think Branson, Trump or Madonna. You know exactly what to expect.
According to the World Economic Forum, the types of risk affecting the world are more diverse and ever-more interconnected. In such a world, who would you look to, except project managers, to guide you through?
But wait. What is our branding like? What is the list of qualities or adjectives that immediately spring to mind? And for you, as an individual, when you’re at a dinner party and you mention that you are a project or programme manager, what words and phrases come automatically into people’s heads? Do these words represent what you want others to think of you?
APM will be able to help you with your branding. You will be able to tweak your brand so it says, ‘Oh, and by the way, I am a competent professional who you can trust your project success to.’ Taking on your Chartered status will, APM hopes, give you much more power as a project manager.
But, as with everything, there is a downside, and this one is huge. With great power comes great responsibility. At this moment, ‘Chartered project manager’ doesn’t really have fully formed brand values and attributes. What you do will shape the world’s perception of the brand.
Indeed, perhaps soon Oxford Dictionaries’ expression of the year will be ‘Chartered project manager’, and it will be describing the big change your project leadership has brought to a world in chaos.
This article originally featured in the Spring 2017 edition of Project journal.