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Working holiday

Who would want to be a London taxi driver? They do all that work studying the ‘Knowledge’, and developing their social skills, only to find that driverless cars are now being tested on public roads.

Similarly, who would want to be a project manager? You do all that work studying The Project Management Body of Knowledge, get certified and develop your stakeholder and leadership skills. But now there are plans afoot to test ‘manager-less’ projects in organisations!

“Driverless cars? It will never happen.” That’s what we used to confidently say. And then the experts worked out that they only needed five systems to make cars driverless. The systems had to answer these questions: where am I? (GPS); what’s coming up next? (video); where are the other cars? (RADAR); am I on (a safe) track? (LIDAR); and am I doing OK when I’m parking or doing small manoeuvres? (ultrasonic sensors in wheels). Five systems plus a small computer to knit the answers together and voil, you have a driverless car!

“Manager-less projects? It will never happen…” Have you ever had to leave a project on its own for a while? Your other half has insisted on an uninterrupted holiday, right in the middle of a project? My guess is that, in advance, you did a number of crucial things.

You probably held several reviews to see exactly where the project was really up to. And, in each session, you probably also did a ‘preview’, scanning the future horizon for things that could go wrong so that you could work out how to avert them before an avoidable phone call ruined your holiday.

I bet you put a lot of effort into making sure that all the team members were aware of their own, and each other’s, accountabilities and deliverables. You probably even worked out how to get them to remind each other. You also spent time with people leading other activities your project is dependent upon, to check that they had no surprises planned.

I suspect, too, that you thought hard about your stakeholders and worked out whom you needed to update before your holiday. You probably put a lot of effort into reducing the project owner’s ‘anxiety gap’ (the difference between stakeholder expectations and reality), and had a word with the project owner to be sure that there was no anxiety gap at all.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that you recalibrated the overall purpose of the project, and decided whether it was still on track. Finally, I suspect you put in place a way for the different groups – team members, stakeholders, project owner and client – to share information and to ensure that all actions were effectively coordinated. And it worked. You had a great holiday!

But it worked because you had already built open and trusting relationships with your team. So they did better than you asked. It worked because you had already engaged with your stakeholders. It worked because you had already understood the challenges and concerns of the project owner. The interconnections between the hard tools and methods and the soft human side are far too difficult to replace with data or a system.

Manager-less projects? It will never happen! 

This article first appeared in Project.

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  1. David Hughes
    David Hughes 13 November 2015, 10:48 AM

    Very interesting read.In my opinion the ‘project’ is not the car, it’s the destination. The ‘car’ is just the tool we mostly use for getting to that destination (the completed project).Someone (or something) has to drive.Currently a project sponsor employs a PM to drive either; In-house (chuffer) or consultant (taxi or Uber!).  If there is no PM the project sponsor (or someone on the team) would have to drive.If we are moving to a driverless scenario then we are talking about software to replace the PM role. Someone still has to input the destination. As tools for managing projects improve so will the complexity of projects embarked on. Elon Musk wants to fly to Mars for crying out loud! That’s a pretty complicated route to navigate.Even if the 'PM' role is just too clearly define the destination and push navigate route there will always be a role for project managers. We should be prepared for how that role might change as technology changes.