The Great Project Manager (Part2) – First Who Then What

Posted on June 1, 2009


right_people_on_the_busSeveral years ago, I have the chance to read Jim Collins’ book – “Good to Great” (G2G), that has changed the way I was approaching performance in Project Management. I suggest to share with you my learnings in applying the different concepts raised in this book into the management of Strategic Projects.

TThe 5 key idea sets of G2G are: Level 5 LeadershipFirst Who, then WhatConfront the brutal factsHedgehog ConceptThe Flywheel and the Doom Loop.

This post is the second part of the Serie “The Great Project Manager”. Part 1 – Level 5 Leadership is available here.

First Who Then What. Get the right people on the bus, get the wrong people off the bus, get the right people in the right seat.

First Who is not the way most of the project teams are operating today. Usually the What is defined upfront with more or less details and the Who becomes a consequence of it. What Jim Collins is suggesting is to reverse this common sequence of events, and establish from the start who will be in and who will out. Of course a main purpose must be defined, such as project objectives, prior to the Who.

Projects are often under a lot of uncertainty. It might be the likelihood of the proposal, the people commitment, the market and the derived value proposition of the project, or external and unplanned events (political climate).  The best way to prepare for this uncertainty, and what you can not possibly predict is to focus first on the who.

This tenet is certainly the most challenging of all, as it requires the project manager to intervene in company politics. The first question that he or she must answer with the top management is “Am I the right person on this bus” – Do I share the same values –  do I feel holding a responsibility for what I’m going to do – am I or could I become the best person in the company to manage this project, is the top management team is expecting a Level 5 leadership.  If you feel comfortable with all these questions, you might be the right person. The importance here is that you keep your freedom of choice.

The second part will be to cascade these questions to the persons you will have on the project team. And this where internal politics can take place. However if you have gone thru the first step process (for yourself), this path should be facilitated.

Most of energy & time of Project Managers should be to identify the best people and get them in the bus. And most importantly get the wrong people off the bus. Whatever the time used to make this happen, the decision must be enforced as soon as you detect such person. As you have the right people on your project, they should be self-motivated and self-disciplined, which will considerably decrease the need to manage them. Trying to motivate or manage people is a waste of time, it should be automatically address if your are focusing first on the Who.

This question of Who applied as well to external parties such as services or product vendors. They should be selected based on the same principles. A deep discussion during the RFP or RFQ process should be engaged on the core values and purpose.

Along the way, you might find that a person well suited for a position in the project might be short, and the seat is becoming too big for him or her. It is again where great project managers dedicate themselves to identify the right path. Either reduce the size of the seat or reassign this person on an another seat.

Great project Managers know that the question of Who is on the bus (first) is what makes a project successful, and is a best way to manage uncertainty inherent to strategic projects.

The Great Project Manager Serie: Level 5 LeadershipFirst Who, then WhatConfront the brutal factsHedgehog ConceptThe Flywheel and the Doom Loop.

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