It was a great catch-all question as the answers provided gave a very good indication of where the candidate sat on the professional continuum for the role in terms of experience, knowledge and competence. It also served as a good way to educate the recruiter on the varied aspects of the role. One of the key insights that I discovered through this practice was how much different professions have evolved over time. No more so than the role of Project Manager.

The Project Management profession is in growth mode. Research by the Project Management Institute (PMI) indicates that the number of roles globally will grow by 33% in the next 10 years with forecasts that there will be 88 million people working in a Project Management related role by 2027. In the research the head of the PMI in China, Bob Chen described the evolving role of Project Management in the following terms:

“As the business environment today is becoming increasingly complex and fast-changing, it has brought higher requirements to project managers. Project managers today should not only have a firm grasp of basic project management knowledge but also possess strong leadership, including skills in conflicts resolution, negotiation, stakeholder management as well as capabilities in strategic and business management,”

Breaking this down further Moira Alexander in CIO Magazine identified six key traits that differentiated good projects managers from the rest of the pack.

  1. Be a strategic business partner – be able to clearly evidence how your project is contributing to the organisations strategic goals.
  2. Encourage and recognise valuable contributions – leverage the benefits of collaboration
  3. Respect and motivate stakeholders – this particularly important when dealing with project sponsors and business stakeholders.
  4. Be fully invested in success – own the project outcome.
  5. Stress integrity and accountability
  6. Work in the grey – effectively deal with the ambiguity and complexity that is the modern business environment.

Historically it used to be that you were either a technical e.g. Information Technology (IT) Project Manager or a Business Project Manager. The traditional IT Project Manager was responsible for the delivery, planning, organizing and delegating responsibility for the completion of specific information technology outcomes.  In contrast, the  Business Project Manager delivered operating model projects with little or no technology.  Where there were technology changes they ensured that IT systems met the business requirements of users/ stakeholders and the system and operating model changes were successfully adopted to achieve business benefits.

While these are very simplistic definitions it clearly evidences that there were distinctly different skillsets required to deliver on each of these roles. Technical Project Managers came from technical backgrounds such as development, infrastructure, or engineering and they had strong technical knowledge of how a system or product should be built. The Business Project Manager would most likely came from a functional role within the business from areas such as marketing, operations or finance.  Each type of project manager’s knowledge was informed by their business experience,  training and development. They would often cross-skill on projects and may have developed broader professional knowledge through additional studies such as an MBA, but fundamentally they were a product of their functional experience. Over the last 20 years these two distinct project management professions have been slowly morphing into what we know today we know as a Project Manager.

I believe too often project managers have been forced to work with unnecessary ambiguity and complexity. This is due to the inability to clearly align their project outcomes to the strategic objectives of the organisation. This is something that you don’t develop through either business functional or technical experience and is an attribute that both Moira Alexander and Bob Chen clearly see as a key competency to being a successful project manager. It is interesting to note that they believe the key to successful project management is to not only have the ability to align your project with strategic outcomes but also to be able to communicate effectively to your stakeholders how you are supporting them to deliver strategic outcomes! This is supported by PMI research that has shown that one of the key contributors to project success rates is the level of engagement of executive sponsors. If Project Managers can effectively engage and motivate these stakeholders their ability to succeed will be greater.

Formal Project Management development pathways such as Prince 2  and Project Managers Body of Knowledge (PMBOK ) provide excellent methods to execute a project while bodies of knowledge such as Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (Babok ) provide excellent insights and tools to assist with requirements gathering. But to link project outputs to strategic objectives I think that we need to draw on the skills and knowledge of a different profession, Business Architecture.

Business Architecture, through the technique of Capability Based Management, allows a Project Manager through business-led collaboration to translate the organisations strategic objectives to project level outcomes. This is done by defining the Business Model and Value Streams required to deliver those objectives and then further breaking these down into the different capabilities (people, process, technology and data) that the outcomes of the project will enhance or establish. The artefacts and tools used to do this can be used to provide a level of traceability that the Project Manager can use to show how their business case clearly aligns what is proposed at the project level to what is important to executive stakeholders. In addition, it can support the motivation of project teams as individual team members can see how their contribution adds value to the bigger picture.

Business Architecture assists project managers and their collaborative teams to be fully invested in success and accountable (owning the project outcomes). When a project output can be traced to the establishment of or improvement in a capability (s) that has a demonstrable impact on a value stream then this will motivate business stakeholders. The tools of Business Architecture such as the Business Motivation Model, Business Model Canvas, Value Stream Maps and Capability Maturity Roadmaps are excellent ways of communicating complex project activities to executive stakeholders.

These techniques, tools and artefacts are equally effective at providing a supporting framework for project team members as they can align their value-adding activities to specific areas of capability improvement. I believe that having access to these types of frameworks will become increasingly important to Project Managers as the adoption of Agile practices increase. One of the core principles of Agile is to be continuously delivering value. In many organisations what constitutes value can be quite subjective when looked at from a Project versus Business perspective. Having a defined business architecture allows Agile Project Teams to map the outcomes of their iterations to capabilities and value streams and consequently strategic objectives. Through this mechanism, Agile Project Teams can clearly communicate to their stakeholders how their activities are adding value.

I started this piece by asking the question what makes a successful project manager. The answer, while somewhat self-evident, is someone who delivers the outcomes the organisation wants/ needs. It is how these outcomes are defined that has had the most impact on the development of the project management profession. Historically success used to be delivery of projects on time, on budget and meeting quality requirements within the defined scope. Now the requirement is to deliver demonstrable business outcomes. This has thrown up new challenges for Project Managers as they need to be able to provide their business stakeholders, particularly executives, with the confidence that they not only understand what business outcomes need to be achieved but also communicate how they are going to deliver these outcomes. This ability to link business strategy to project execution is one of the greatest benefits of Business Architecture and I believe that Project Managers who can draw on these techniques, tools and methods will position themselves as a strategic business partner over the next ten years and at the same time have a rewarding and fulfilling career.

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Scott Comte