Project management: lead with goodwill!
In many companies, the life of a project looks like a French garden: organised according to a precise plan and thought out to the last detail. It follows a marked-out path, leaving little room for chance. In order to achieve the objectives, project teams often have to follow a rigorous methodology and a detailed schedule under the watchful eye of a Project Management Officer, usually shortened to PMO. Managing a project is a bit of a caricature of ticking off task lists and automatically carrying out a series of actions, with the help of slides, impact matrices, meetings, and other milestones.
This ultra-standard approach may seem reassuring. In reality, applied too rigidly, it can be counterproductive.
Firstly, it shrinks project teams to mere executors and largely takes away their control over their project. By defining not only the objectives but also the precise means of achieving them, excessively standardised approaches disempower employees and prevent them from fully exploiting everything they know about their profession, their teams and their clients. As a result, the level of involvement and motivation of all stakeholders decrease. Because when everything is written in advance, where is the pleasure of success? Where is the challenge? Where is the desire to prove and to outperform to give the best of oneself? In their eagerness to mark out and control everything, the followers of excessive planning forget one thing: the success of a project is not based on the disciplined application of predefined methods, but above all on the energy, enthusiasm, vitality and desire to make teams. In order to move the lines and brilliantly accomplish their mission, project teams must be energised by a positive “breath” and a certain strength, which pushes them to move forward and perform collectively. Herein lies the paradox: by seeking at all costs to protect themselves against failure, normative approaches actually run the greatest risk of all: paralysing the project players and “anaesthetizing” their desire to excel.
Adopting overly prescriptive approaches also means risking to indefinitely follow the same operational and decision-making patterns, and thus slowing down the emergence of new ideas. How can we invent new approaches and think out of the box in organizations where automatic thinking reigns? Overly detailed planning constrains initiative; too rigid processes discourage risk-taking and any willingness to change the rules. To ensure the best chances of success, project teams need to maintain a certain independence of mind, challenge what already exists if necessary, and finally be allowed to innovate.
So, what can be done? Should we eliminate all constraints, abolish schedules, and let project teams work in total autonomy? I think that in project management, as in many other areas, the key is to find a balance.
It is not a matter of giving up planning but leading with goodwill. Opting not for a detailed, locked itinerary, but for an open, modular roadmap that indicates the main deadlines that can be adjusted along the way. The important thing is not to anticipate everything, but to make regular adjustments as needed. Each project is unique and follows a timeframe that varies according to the corporate culture and the pace at which the organisation is committed: it is better to be attentive to this specific timeframe than to impose an foreign and “unnatural” pace.
Nor is it a question of renouncing any form of methodological framework, but rather of establishing a climate of trust that allows teams to free themselves from the established rules when they feel the need to do so. The empowerment of employees is essential, because by encouraging hopes, ideas and initiatives we give ourselves the best chance of achieving – and even outperforming – our objectives.
In the end, the success of a project does not rely solely on planning, structure, or methods. It is rather the ability to create joy and desire, to celebrate victories and to be flexible to counter chance and unpredictable events. As Jeff Bezos recommended, “stubborn on vision of things, and flexible on details”!