Planning Your Project with “The Leadership Lens”

By Mike Norman, PMP and Bob McGannon, PMP

You have received a fairly comprehensive project charter, have sponsorship that will dedicate time and effort to the project, and you even have the technical expertise in house and available to get the job done. So all that is left to consider is the project schedule, the risk plan, communication plan, quality initiatives, and a myriad of other tools at the disposal of the experienced project manager. How does the experienced project manager decide which – and to what degree – each of these tools are to be used on the project? To accomplish this, the project manager needs a “Leadership Lens.”

When a project is in the initiation or planning stage, The Leadership Lens approach analyzes four main factors to assist the project manager in understanding what may lie ahead. These four approaches are the Rational, Organizational, Political, and Shared Values of the project environment and the people within it. Let’s take a look at each of these “Lenses” and see how they may shed light on the project manager’s pathway to success.

The Rational Lens

The Rational Lens examines items that are “metrics-driven” such as return on investment (ROI), the enhancement of employee capabilities or productivity gains. Key stakeholders and users of the project’s product can be won-over via the Rational Lens if the result of the project provides them with a perceived victory – greater capabilities without impacting job security. This does not exclude the need to gain buy-in for the solution via tactful communication and activities to make the end users voice be heard in the design of the final product, but logic prevails in this view of project planning.

The rational lens for analyzing project process initiatives can be broken further into factors such as balance sheet management, positioning relative to one’s competitors, and the ROI of a given project or initiative. Engaging a process without appropriate consideration of the rational lens may gain the support of the staff, but your Board of Directors and shareholders will have little tolerance for it, unless business progress may be quantified. The challenge with this lens is when an initiative may have a business “positioning” or longer term benefit, while negatively affecting finances in the short-term. Packaging the sale from the rational lens perspective entails describing the “survival” and growth of the business in the marketplace by demonstrating the future need or desire of your customer base the initiative will satisfy, or the advantage one will gain over your competitors. A focus on “easing the pain” for your customer usually works quite effectively when dealing with sponsors via the “rational lens”.

The Organizational Lens

The organizational lens will examine project initiatives from the standpoint of norms and differences relative to what is expected by personnel in the workplace. If a project management process can be demonstrated to support a currently existing process or aspect of a company’s culture, that initiative will likely receive enthusiastic support. In instances where introducing a project management initiative cannot be tied to a current organizational norm (or worse yet, if it conflicts with one!) the project manager must place special emphasis on “selling” the value of that initiative. For instance, a project manager who wants to create a risk management plan in an organization where that would be perceived as “overly pessimistic” needs to reflect on past experiences in the organization (or related application area) and how the risk plan would have circumvented impacts. This turns the “pessimistic” view of risk to a view of optimistic outcomes by avoiding those risks. Better yet – find a project in the work environment that was successful that did leverage risk management and demonstrate how risk management contributed to the success of that project.

The organizational lens can sometimes be the most difficult to sway toward change. Habits, compensation initiatives, and “turf protection” often require the project manager to navigate through perceived power shifts to bring an initiative to fruition. These power shifts are difficult to implement, as they often will have a perceived adverse affect on people who have been considered instrumental to the success of an entity. In addition, the attitudes and priorities of the employees at large must be changed. This is accomplished by constant communication that is supported through the entire sponsorship team, and compensation/reward initiatives that will instill change. Without these, employees will revert to their “tried and true” ways that have brought them success and praise from their immediate leadership. As a project manager, working with your management and sponsors to create an incentive for adopting a new project management process (no matter how obvious it may be to the seasoned project manager with knowledge of PMBOK® Guide) can be critical. It doesn’t have to involve a significant amount of money – or any money at all – it just needs to include a visible reassurance that management recognizes the adoption of a change or new initiative and compliments the employee who embraces them.

The Political Lens

The political lens, in contrast to the organizational lens, is focused on communication to a comparatively few individuals. The “trick” here is to direct that communication to the true leaders, which does not mean those who fill in certain boxes on the traditional organization chart or in your project stakeholder list! The leaders in your organization may well be in the management hierarchy, but more often than not there are pivotal individuals who aren’t on that chart. These are the folks who can sway others – positively or negatively. Understanding their position, working with them to gain buy-in, and incorporating their contribution and ideas will substantially increase the probability of success in working with project initiatives. The greatest failure factor in this area is the project manager who is not in touch with the organization and does not know these leaders. That can be corrected easily through a number of activities: participating in project activities yourself versus delegating to others, carefully listening while discussing the project with stakeholders and by holding “round table” discussions while carefully noting who speaks and who does not, and watching for whose “approval” seems to be sought prior to introducing ideas. Be careful however, discovering the political leaders means winning them over and seeking their advice. Listening carefully, with a mind towards “adjustment” is paramount. Also, a staunch grip on the past that may be reflected by these people may result in driving an unpopular project initiative. This is a difficult action to take, but may be necessary to successfully deliver your project.

The Shared Values Lens

Lastly, the shared values lens reflects the culture of the organization where you are chartered with delivering your project. The use of the word “culture” here does not mean the sayings or the approach to the promotional material and management objectives held true in your sponsoring organization. This is closely tied to the organizational lens – its essence is what leads the project team members to perform. Does your project require creativity in an organization where creative thinking is not fully embraced? What is the perceived task priority of your project team members – working through project tasks as their highest priority, or are they expected to maintain current business processes and systems – then find time for project related activities? In other words, does the organization prioritize new development over supporting existing business initiatives? More directly related to project management initiatives, does the sponsoring organization favor informality when processes and sign-offs are required to implement a complex project? So how does a project manager capitalize on the information provided through the shared values lens?

The old adage goes “you get what you measure.” What you decide to measure, directly or implicitly, relative to the behavior of your project team (with management sponsorship) will dictate your culture and your professed “shared values.” As long as changes in the value system of the organization are embraced, recognized, and rewarded by management; progress is possible. Any momentum in this area needs to start with the project manager, but also has to involve line and sponsoring management as well. Any project management initiative must be incorporated and reconciled with the groups shared values. If those values are supported, then no obstacles will be visible through this lens; if there are conflicts with what is professed (versus verbalized) a major part of your initiative will need to be directed toward employee prioritization change, with rewards for changed behavior and new results.

The table below summarizes the four “lenses” and the characteristics of each that need to be considered by the project manager.
Leadership Lens Table

The Paradigm Rational Organizational Political Shared Values
Primary characteristics Logical, objectives-driven, pros and cons Organizational structure, mission, and standard operating procedures Key players, power, influence, and self interest Vision, principle, ideology, corporate culture
Drivers for decision making Business priority and alternatives Organizational impact and complexity Political results Ideas and values
Characteristics of a change Substitution, pervasive Gradual, incremental, risk averse, parochial Issue and influence oriented, parochial Sweeping, sacrifice for the whole
Information affecting decisions and behaviors Agendas, structured, quantitative, methodology-based Operational impact and capacity, quantitative and qualitative Positions and players, alliances, qualitative perceptions Consensus, opinions, dialog, qualitative, opinion polls

Project initiatives and tools are plentiful and can assist the project manager in a large number of ways. The astute project manager, however, chooses tools and processes with care. This care involves taking time to get to know key stakeholders, as well as the nature of the sponsoring organization, and understanding the nature of change they are producing via the product(s) of the project. An effective way to analyze the project environment is with the four leadership lenses.

The Leadership Lens decision making approach is a major discussion point in Mindavation’s newest class offering – Critical Judgment. This class will be offered in a public setting for the first time in April of 2006. See the offering schedule page of the Mindavation web site for scheduling details.

PMBOK is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

The Mindavation Foundation is proud to donate 5% of profits towards development of youth leaders.
Copyright © 2011 Mindavation - All rights reserved.