The way we plan is changing
How do you measure success?
Historically, you would look at your original plan, and compare your final outcome to that: where did you stick to the plan, when did you stray, and judge whether your ultimate results matched what the plan predicted. It has been so ingrained in management philosophy that few stop to question whether it makes sense: just lay out the plan, get everyone on board, and sally forth.
The truth is, plans are less of a strategic blueprint than they are a marker that can show you, in hindsight, just how far you strayed from your original vision. Plans are a starting point for projects; it takes flexibility to reach the end. And projects, it turns out, are what define the culture, structure, and success of any organization.
Researchers from Boston University examined traditional priorities and assumptions in management (dubbed “Management 1.0”) and compared them to emerging trends and best practices. What they found is that Project Management is leading change to a new, more adaptive model that can carry organizations into the future.
But to embrace this “Management 2.0” and all its benefits, some outdated notions need to be left behind—including the supremacy of the Master Plan that has defined roles, strategies, and measures of success for so long.
Success: Plan for Chaos
As the Boston University researchers found, Project Management is redefining management as a whole because it is dynamic: projects are temporary, demand creative solutions, hone problem-solving skills, and tend to be unique. Strategic planning for projects provides a starting point for a company, but improvisation and responsiveness to a changing situation pushes progress forward.
Management in general needs to adopt a similar approach to dealing with human resources, company identity, and the industry in which it operates. Change is no longer episodic, but continuous: the world moves too quickly to view transitions as temporary or limited. Project Management requires accommodation to the specific needs, limitations, and opportunities presented; so do the customers, clients, workers, competitors, and business environment of the modern economy.
Culture: Adapt, Don’t Preserve
Leaders are recognizing that company culture is central to everything from engagement to productivity, and affects companies both inside and out. A positive, attractive culture can be a marketing asset—a toxic one, a liability.
But a company’s culture is not a legacy institution, designed to withstand the forces of time and change like a beacon in the night. It must be an adaptive, organic reflection of the people who comprise the company, and the way they interact with the larger business environment. What made a company competitive, attractive, or successful just a few years ago won’t necessarily distinguish it tomorrow; similarly, the culture of a company can’t stagnate while the world moves around it.
Nurturing a healthy culture at work is not just a matter of explaining and reinforcing a static message to each worker. Fresh people, ideas, and projects rejuvenate companies—and, if management is open enough, culture can be refreshed as well. Allowing company culture to evolve along with work habits, personalities, and the industry isn’t a compromise, it is a survival strategy.
Values: Accommodate, Don’t Instill
Accounting for cultural values as the face of the modern workforce changes is a priority for successful managers. Millennials, Generations X and Y, and Baby Boomers are all carrying their own, generational sets of expectations, demands, and limitations to work with them. Trying to wring homogeneity from such an eclectic mix is not going to bring the team together and unite their respective visions of company culture.
Workers of all ages are much savvier than they often get credit for. Company manifestos, mission statements, and posters replete with pithy values and aphorisms can’t compete with the notions employees are already bringing with them to any job. Managers can’t necessarily impose the values they want on their teams; rather, they are learning to embrace the things employees subscribe to.
That is not to say management has no say in fostering a company’s value-focus. The important element here is being flexible with respect to the different voices in a company, rather than rigidly adhering to a particular, predetermined set of values. When interests align, emphasize it and create a teachable moment; when someone is missing from the equation, make sure they have a means to be heard. People want to express their values, not receive instruction in what their values ought to be.
Teams: Coordinate, Don’t Delegate
This one is trickier. Conventional wisdom says that the ability to delegate is a critical managerial talent—which is true. But what project managers are finding across industries is that setting specific tasks to teams assembly-line style may not be as effective as encouraging collaboration.
Even in medicine, where roles, titles, and duties are assigned on the basis of specialization, experts are finding ways to improve outcomes by getting different players to think not just about their own needs and actions, but how they must interact to achieve a shared goal.
The University of Cincinnati’s Nursing School put this very idea to the test in a recent, multi-million dollar project in which medical students underwent collaborative cross-training, covering both the mental and physical aspects of care, as well as breaking technology and best practices associated with comprehensive care. By instilling a sense of inter-professional awareness, both caregivers and patients experienced more success, a greater sense of team accomplishment, and a heightened awareness of the field in which they operate.
What this lesson shows is that although specialized skills warrant specialized task delegation, workers perform better when they understand and witness how their work interacts with others’. Cross-training and collaborative engagement between different teams, departments, and even projects all creates a heightened sense of awareness and sense of community. Projects are holistic, even if the requisite tasks can be isolated, and workers benefit from exposure to everyone’s efforts, not just their own.
The speed of change in all sectors has devalued planning skills in management; what the world really needs is people who can adapt. Leading organizations is synonymous with managing change, and project managers exemplify how to stay adept and responsive in a chaotic environment. Once you see your organization as a work in progress, you are ready to start managing it another as another project.