Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Projects, project management and careers – 12: collaborative project management

Posted in career development, job search and career development, outsourcing and globalization by Timothy Platt on September 17, 2012

This is my twelfth installment in a series on projects and project management as a career path (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 250-260 for Parts 1-11.) And I turn to consider an aspect of project management that has become particularly important as we move into a more openly collaborative, less top-down business context that includes and responds to interactive online connectedness and crowd sourcing as a collective creation and sharing of value: collaborative project management.

• The more geographically dispersed a project team, the less likely that any single project manager will be fully up to speed on all of the work scheduling and resource access issues that team members have to face on a day to day basis. There is real value in stepping back and letting team members make on the spot decisions for themselves so as to make the most effective use of their time and efforts.
• The more complex a project is, the more it can make sense to divide it up into what amounts to sub-projects with more local hands-on managers taking responsibility for their part of the overall project.
• This type of division of management responsibility for specific work areas of a larger project can at times best be divided up according to shared cultural experience and expectations, and the communications and management approaches that work best for specific groups of team members.

The core point running through all three of those bullet points is that while many projects succeed and many project teams thrive under the overall direct leadership of a single project manager, there are times when project management teams make sense too. And in either case, it is important that individual project team members be supported in making the day to day decisions that they need to make in carrying through on their own overall work responsibilities.

So as a working example, and to take this out of the abstract, consider a project and project team that effectively span four different offices within a larger multinational business, and with each of these offices based in a different country and with these four working groups divided along lines of native language and national culture too. There is a single overall project manager who has been assigned overall ownership of and responsibility for the project as a whole. Working with their team and with lower level project managers they have brought into this effort, each of these four working groups has been assigned its own group leader – its own sub-project manager. And the overall project is divided up into tasks and subtasks and the dependencies of all of them are at least preliminarily mapped out (see Part 11: international and trans-national projects 4.) Tasks and groups of tasks that fit together as being more effectively carried through upon by the same people are organized and assigned to the four sub-teams, and with this division organized so as to more effectively carry out dependent tasks, according to whether they have to be done concurrently or in some particular order. The idea is to keep all four groups busy and without avoidable gaps, or periods where there is too much to do all at once than there are people or other crucial resources to do it. This would, of course be determined in terms of overall work schedules and responsibilities and not as if this project were being carried out in a vacuum.

And the overall project manager for this effort holds hands-on responsibility for orchestrating the overall project and for making sure that all of the essential details are completed and in an effective order, so as to bring everything together with a successfully completed project. They would do this in coordination with the sub-team project managers who report to them from the four offices involved in this effort, and with any administrative team members specifically tasked with helping to track performance, benchmarks and deadlines who are on their immediate staff. The four project managers located at and responsible for project activity at those four offices would carry out similar responsibilities with their own local teams, working with individual team members in their particular group while doing so. And those individual team members in those four groups would actually hands-on carry out most of the actual subtask and task completion work, and results testing and validation for it.

Problems and information concerning them would escalate up from hands-on project workers to local manager to overall project manager level and certainly where this could impact upon planned project schedules or costs. The idea is not to bury either a group manager or the overall project manager with details they need not see, but to keep them informed and in a timely manner of the details that would affect the project at the level where they have to be able to make informed decisions.

This approach would not be pursued in a rigidly top-down authoritarian management system and it most likely could not be either. This can, however, be the only workable approach and certainly for an organization with a flattened organizational hierarchy and where initiative and creative contribution are rewarded and where that is expected. So certainly for large, complex projects that call for a diversity of skills and experience for completion, this approach and ones like it are going to become the more common standard.

Projects do not always go completely smoothly, and without any need for change in plans, schedules or expected execution. In fact few projects ever simply carry through 100% as initially envisioned and without any course adjustments needed. I will turn to discuss the very real-world issues of change and adjustment in projects and project management in my next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development. I am also including this subseries on international and trans-national projects in Outsourcing and Globalization.

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