In our experience working with manufacturers and distributors from small, family-owned businesses to medium-sized, private equity backed companies to global large, complex organizations, projects account for 80% of the improvement. There are projects to improve efficiencies, reduce inventory, grow sales, expand into new regions, consolidate operations and the list goes on. Thus, if we must rely on projects for business growth and profitability, should we think about our project managers as million-dollar project managers?
Most likely the answer is yes. However, in our experience, project managers are not often treated with much respect. Oftentimes, they are seen as lower level resources responsible for executing initiatives, coordinating resources and reporting progress up the chain. But, is this how we should treat our resources who can have such a far-reaching impact?
Let’s think about the reach of project managers’ impact. There are several key points to consider:
1. Impact on resources: Undoubtedly, the number one concern from all levels of leadership relates back to resources. There are “too many,” “not enough,” “not the right skills,” “not allocated properly” and so on. Thus, anyone who has a significant impact on resources should be considered valuable.
2. Daily decisions on which tasks gain priority: Similar to the impact on resources, determining the priority of tasks is crucial. As a project manager, there is a constant need to prioritize among tasks, collaborate with departments, etc.
3. Ingrained in the business: Project managers are in the “thick of things” on a daily basis. In order to complete tasks and achieve results, project managers are involved in a wide array of activities. They are familiar with what is working and what isn’t working in each department as it relates to project tasks. There are very few projects which are confined to a singular department.
4. Communicate across the organization: In order to complete their tasks, the project manager must communicate and collaborate across departments and layers of the organization. Since high-quality resources are hard to come by, it is vital to keep communications in a positive light.
5. Impact on profit: Certainly, almost every project relates back to profitability in some respect. Whether we are growing the business, increasing margins, automating key processes or improving efficiencies, there is a direct impact on profit.
So, since it is clear that project managers have a substantial impact on business success, it is wise to think about how to maximize their performance. As a metaphor, the million-dollar project manager is appealing since there is often million-dollar impacts. Thus, what should we do to ensure project managers are treated more like million-dollar project managers?
1. Provide clarity of the big picture: Project managers will be more invested in their projects if they understand the impact on the organization. Make sure to provide clarity of the big picture and how they fit in.
2. Give them discretion: There have been countless studies as to what is most successful in keeping valuable employees (like your million-dollar project managers), and the net conclusion is that employees want some ability to affect the outcome of their work. We must give them some level of discretion to make decisions and guide their projects within reasonable parameters.
3. Recognize small wins: Managing projects can be a slog into details with little to show for it. Find small wins to celebrate. Make a big deal of the importance and tie it back to the project manager and their team.
4. Support their decisions: There is nothing more important than supporting your project managers. Of course, providing constructive feedback is essential; however, when in the heat of the battle, it is vital to support your project manager’s decisions. Without this support at critical junctures, the project will suffer, and the project manager will become dismayed.
5. Promote the project: Promoting the project throughout the organization can do quite a lot for its chances of success. How do you get resources to want to join your project team? Start by being attractive. This oftentimes goes back to how compelling the project seems. Make it so! Do you think the best leaders’ projects for improving margins happen to be more enticing than the average leaders’ projects of the same type? No; perception becomes a reality.
Since projects will have a substantial effect on your customer loyalty and bottom line – the two most critical aspects of any business – it is worthwhile taking a few steps back to think about the project managers driving these results. If you think about their impact, a million dollars might not be sufficient. Therefore, start thinking about your project managers as though they have a million-dollar impact and results will follow.
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