David Taylor, author of The Naked Leader, has a piece of leadership advice for APM members: don’t just serve the business – be the business. In the build-up to this year’s APM Conference on 2 May, here are five proven project leadership lessons.
David Taylor was an IT director who stumbled into a fantastically successful career as a leadership consultant, speaker and author – his first book, The Naked Leader, is, he says, the fastest-selling business book of all time.
His template is simple – a cycle of knowing where you want to go, where you are now, and what you have to do to move between those points. Then, of course, you have to get on and do it – and it doing so, you learn about your next objective.
In his keynote address to the APM Corporate Partners Forum 2019 in Birmingham in February this year, he encouraged project managers to be leaders; and project leaders to redefine their entire organisations. Here’s a selection of his memes:
- Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes
Projects often fail simply because their outcomes and effects are poorly articulated. “Some people say what’s the goal, the mission the purpose? But they don’t ask what the outcome they want is,” said Taylor. Make it clear – and make it simple…
- Simple is hard… but it’s critical
The solution? Have a one-page project proposal with a title, a rationale, the benefits and the outcome. “When the board sees your ‘project on a page’ they won’t say, ‘what a joke’,” he added. “They’ll love you.” And remember the old Pareto rule – simplify your project programme if you can, focusing on the 10% of activities that generate 90% of the value.
- Forget ‘agile’ (and a bunch of other jargon)
“Your brain is already agile,” Taylor told delegates. “It’s wired for survival, we’re already agile creatures.” We need to rediscover a more instinctive approach to reaching our desired outcomes, and admit that terms like ‘user’ depersonalise projects. SLAs? That means nothing to most people.
- Be the business
Every function talks about itself ‘…and the business’ when it’s trying to come up with its reason for being. But, Taylor said, that leaves the field open for project management to be the business. “Where is this mysterious ‘business’? If project management can’t be the business, we’re all in trouble.”
His tips on getting there? First, be assumptive – act as if you’re already ‘the business’. Second, ask businesslike questions in meetings – such as “what’s the value of this decision in financial terms”. It shows you’re grounded. And third? “Always talk about yourself as if you’re the business.”
- Be a human
The secret to great project leadership, Taylor stressed, is creating trusted informal relationships. “You have to be honest and transparent,” he said, “and create choices for people – give them the reasons to follow you.” Those choices need a context – your mental map of outcomes and pathways will help with that.
And you need to engage in what he calls ‘hidden account management’ – knowing who in the team and around the organisation will help build success in your project. “We drew up a list of ten people in IT in Allianz, and mirrored them,” Taylor recalled. “We ensured the people who informed them would catch us doing great things. And that turned around the reputation of the department.”
PS: As a former IT director, Taylor’s got plenty of PM jokes about his former tech colleagues. Our favourite? “What would have happened if an IT director had been at the helm of the Titanic? Simple: it would have missed the iceberg. By two years.”
Brought to you by Project journal.