I’m a project management consultant. Does that make me more a project manager than a consultant, or more a consultant than a project manager? Or, am I equally both? Aargh, I’m so confused! One day I’m like “Let’s get to the bottom of this problem and get it solved!” and the next day it’s “How do you think things are going, what has been or could be better?” My personality is split! Help me work this out – I need someone to listen while I rant about which one I am or need to be and why.
The primary purpose of a project manager’s job is getting tasks done on time and within budget. Sure, we bring other skills to the project, but that’s the main reason we exist. People who can help get things done right on time and within budget are very important to any organization. They organize and lead the people who must participate, clarify objectives, drive out tasks, assign work and balance loads, identify issues and risks and solve and mitigate, track progress, make adjustments, pinch pennies, avoid additions and distractions, communicate within and outside the team, buy and manage vendors, corral and organize everything, benevolently dictate, crush problems, feed people pizza and donuts, espouse confidence; and the work gets done. The PMBOK describes all these processes and our PMP certification makes sure that we understand our role and how to do it. We want project managers who can do this work. When they are successful it’s very obvious; same thing when they are not.
As a consultant, I don’t get to manage the projects I work with. I used to manage projects, but I have to work hard to remember that now I’m a consultant. My task oriented problem solving skills get pushed to the background because I am there primarily for another purpose. I help organizations and their project managers manage their projects more successfully. It’s not the same as being a project manager. It’s about improving the organization and its people so that they are more successful in delivering projects. To do that, I need to help them see their strengths and weaknesses more clearly. I help them find ways to improve. I don’t improve them, they need to choose to improve themselves and find their own way to accept, adapt, and apply any recommendations I make. Whether I make a difference or not is more subtle than when I’m a project manager. It may show up right away, several months later, or never. Sometimes you never know. A few times I’ve left a project wondering if I helped and then I get a call or email or run into a client months or even years later and they say ‘thanks, your work made a big difference to me.’ This keeps me going.
So, why the angst? When I talk about The Other Side of Risk and finding what can go right on your projects, I think I’m saying that every project needs some consulting to balance the project management. Maybe I get out of balance and lean too much toward a consulting attitude. I hope I’m not communicating that having that task oriented problem crushing project manager attitude isn’t important. I hope that I’m saying that every project creates an opportunity to make the organization a better place if it can include a consulting attitude as well. That there is a balance.
I guess a project manager needs to be a consultant, too. You have to balance your project management strengths with consulting oriented strengths to get the most out of your projects. The same seems to apply when I’m in a consultant role. I have to balance people’s expectations that I make a difference immediately with equal expectations that I stay in my detached objective role of consultant. When I see that project management traits are missing, I have to advocate for the task oriented problem crushing leadership needed by the project. When I see that task oriented problem crushing traits are missing or driving out important opportunities to make the organization stronger and the impact of the project greater, I have to recommend a more consultative approach to project management. There has to be a balance – a handshake between the two attitudes.
I talked about this in “Attitude Flip” a few posts back when I suggested that every project management process provides the opportunity to work with your team to find what can go right on the project to the benefit of the organization and its people. We can end up with better skills, relationships, capacity, and understanding of our organization by thinking about how to include these opportunities in our projects. To do this, as project managers we may need to act a little more like consultants at the same time as we hold onto our necessary project manager traits. The balance of the two, and how they fit together, is the core of finding what can go right.
Consulting, especially organizational development consulting, often looks at the world this way. As I dig deeper into consulting practices, one in particular jumps out at me – Appreciative Inquiry or AI for short. AI was developed by Dr. David Cooperrider and Dr. Ronald Fry at Case Western Reserve University. It is essentially the anti-thesis of a problem solving approach to bringing about change. While we all know that problem solving is good, we can let our zeal for problem solving start to color how we approach everything. We can see organizations as problems to solve. AI says that we should work not with problems; we should work with what has and can go right in an organization. The method has four D’s – Discover, Dream, Design, and Destiny (or Deliver).
We start with finding stories of success that enriched our lives and our organization. We want to build our future around this positive core. Discovering the positive core leads to dreaming about the best possible future – a perfect outcome. We design the organization or part of it being addressed around this vision of the most positive outcome. We don’t focus on problems and barriers. We don’t figure out what we have to fix about ourselves. We focus on what can go right and then plan and organize to deliver our destiny. From a project management perspective, the project appears to become more delivery oriented in the fourth step of the appreciative inquiry. Consulting brings out what can be, project management delivers it.
Reading a passage about AI in “The Change Handbook” by Peggy Holman and Tom Devane that included a quote from Tom White, then CEO at GTE, about how AI had transformed the company, I found familiar words. Tom White said: “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating mindless happy talk. Appreciative Inquiry is a complex science designed to make things better. We can’t ignore problems – we just need to approach them from the other side.”
“The other side.” I started The Other Side Of Risk because I felt that we were looking too much at solving problems and mitigating risk at the expense of not looking for opportunities, imagining perfect outcomes, making the most of the journey through the project, and finding balance between tasks and people that are essential to maximizing what can go right on a project. It seems that Appreciative Inquiry is about the same thing. It’s nice – spooky – to get that sort of affirmation.
Thanks for listening to my rant. I feel better. You’re a good consultant. I think that whether I’m a project manager or a consultant, I have to be both. I have to know when to be more like one or the other. I need to balance and adjust my attitude to bring both project management and consulting strengths to find what can go right, create constructive recommendations, and then lead and deliver results.
Thanks for reading.
Copyright Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk” 2012