The Role of the C-Suite in Project Management

How many times have you heard (or said) any of the following statements?

  • "If you turn this into a project, it will just take longer."
  • "Why do we need to write all of this down? We already know what we want to do."
  • "It shouldn't take more than a day to plan the project, it's exactly like the one we did last year."
  • "We have a hard deadline, so just get started on the work. We can worry about the paperwork later."

If you're a senior manager and struggling to get a handle on projects and project management, then you are not alone. Most senior managers are not project managers, so there is a natural disconnect between operational management and project management. However, the two are not total opposites. For example, both senior management and project managers think about objectives, budgets, schedules, risks, human resources management, communications and so on. So, why is there such a problem?

In this era of light-speed delivery of business outcomes, where being first to market with a mediocre product is better than being second to market with the best product, sometimes senior managers can overlook the true value of project management as an approach to meeting strategic objectives. So, speed becomes the primary driving factor. To that end, developing things like a project charter, spending two weeks to two months planning a small project, or having a day-long meeting about risk all seem to be wasting time or, at the very least, an inefficient use of time.

Senior managers should understand the benefits of project management and how this approach could actually deliver more for their organization. This does not mean executives need to know how to run a project or fill the role of the project manager. The argument for this usually results in executives attending a project management training class to understand what project management really is. This results in a woefully short-sighted training focusing only on the basics, such as project overviews, project selection methods, and what to do when a project is failing.

The management style of senior management can have a major impact on project performance. For example, managers who want to know every detail (sometimes called micro-managers) often frustrate project managers because of the constant oversight. In contrast, executives who give their PMs the authority to run their projects as they see fit, only getting involved when milestones are missed, run the risk of the project missing key strategic objectives.

What should the role be of senior management when it comes to projects? While there are different schools of thought, many factors can drive this, including organizational size, culture and structure, industry, marketplace conditions, as well as project size, type and complexity. Here is a best practice approach:

1. Select projects that contribute business value and meet strategic objectives.

Project selection techniques vary widely from industry-to-industry and business-to-business even within the same industry. The bottom line in all cases however is that projects are the way for organizations to meet the strategic objectives. This can be done through either portfolio or program management efforts.

2. Decide the level of involvement based on project importance.

For routine projects, senior level direction can be minimal if the project objectives are clear, the project manager is experienced and the project is low risk. High risk projects, with a new PM, or projects which could change direction rapidly, a more hands-on approach may be required. Executive should be a good shepherd that provide high-level sponsorship.

3. Convey the strategic vision to the project manager and how the project fits

into that vision.

This is more than just the objectives of the project; it is the overall reason why the company wants to go with the project. When senior management withholds the big picture, the project manager is missing key pieces of information. A culture of closely-held information can lead to projects falling short of what is needed.

4. Allocate adequate resources for the needs of the project.

Executives must efficiently utilize all resources (human, equipment, facilities, money) to meet the mission and goals of the organization. Within that realm, PMs request resources to meet project objectives from various departments within the business. Senior managers should convey the importance of adequate resources to all departments providing these resources.

5. Leadership and oversight are essential for projects to stay on track.

At the senior level, performing project reviews at regular intervals, removing roadblocks for the team and staying on top of milestones is required. Working with PMs to devise meaningful reports, which are easy to read and provide the needed information, will aid senior management in making better decisions.

6. Development of project manager's skillsets will enhance the benefits of

project management.

Providing training, coaching and mentoring to project managers allow senior management to determine who best fills the PM position for any given project. Project managers must have leadership skills to be successful, so building on the skills PMs have and creating opportunities for increasing those skills is essential.

The area of PM skill development is where Project Management Academy can provide the best assistance. PMA offers project management focused training to provide your PMs with the tools needs to become more effective. In Project Management Institute's 2017 Pulse of the Profession study, organizations were basically classified into two distinct groups:

  1. Champions: organizations with 80 percent or more of projects being completed on time and on budget, and meeting original goals and business intent.
  2. Underperformers: Organizations with 60 percent or fewer projects being completed on time and on budget, and meeting original goals and business intent.

Champions are prioritizing the development of technical skills (76% versus 19% of underperformers), leadership skills (76% versus 16% of underperformers), and strategic and business management skills (65% versus 14% of underperformers). Getting the right people with the right skills and capability well-positioned right from the start, is the foundation to a strategic win-win.



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