The image that we have of project managers is determined by our imagination. A project is a temporary undertaking of different size with a clear start and end as well as the required resources – personnel, budget, and infrastructure. Managers are personalities with the role that includes controlling the activities with wide-ranging authority and responsibility for the results. In the end, a project manager actually is a doer, founder, employer, entrepreneur, or leader. The fact that this task is often limited to the role of a clerk or a coordinator without power, explains the fact that projects often do not achieve their objectives.
The company founder normally starts one business at a time. The wrong expectations towards project leaders result in a lack of empowerment and are reflected in the number of parallel projects to be managed – a single project has 100% attention (40 hours per week); each of four projects 25% (10 hours per week); with eight projects 13% each (5 hours per week). Depending on the modus operandi (e.g. PMBoK, PRINCE, GPM or even agile approaches) the activities may differ. However, in any case, communication with the participants has to take place, the team has to be led on request and daily and weekly reports have to be prepared.
Required communication This includes the taking care of emails, phone calls and meetings. On average, we have to deal with 21 to 50 daily emails and 11 to 50 phone calls. In addition, meetings with the project teams, managers and external parties are needed, each of which takes between 15 to 60 minutes or even more. With several projects, the project manager sometimes only has one hour per week for this exchange.
Appropriate leadership Leading includes personal alignment with employees and managers (e.g. feedback, target agreement, personal career), solving disputes and crises, and providing motivation and support. With in a year, this quickly accounts for 20% of working time – i.e. one day per week across various projects. Of these eight hours per week, sometimes only one hour is available for leadership per initiative.
Mandatory reports Comprehensibility is the essential purpose of the reports. Many addressees assume that up-to-dateness, accuracy, consistency and significance come at the push of a button. However, the project manager ensures through random samples that the data and figures provided by the team members are in a timely and correct manner that fit to each other. Daily controlling is the prerequisite for always up-to-date data that are regularly integrated to overarching reports.
Overarching tasks The summary of the daily data to weekly, monthly, quarterly milestone and final reports regarding the progress of the project, the employees deployed, the financial consumption as well as the need for action and decision making creates for various stakeholders a current overview. In addition, certain tasks take place weekly, such as the start and end of the week, including lessons learned and plan adjustments. The number of reports can vary from one project to another. With multiple projects, the project manager may merely spend an hour a week to produce conclusive reports in the respective initiative.
Remaining time The rest is available for other spontaneous tasks – content-related, relational and personal activities. With several projects, the project manager may have only one hour per week for unexpected tasks.
Bottom line: It should be clear that this workload cannot be compensated by overtime. Projects are the form for today’s tasks. If one takes the objectives seriously and really wants to achieve the desired results, then those ordering parties should offer under all circumstances the project management the chance to commit oneself to one project or to accept the fact that the project will fail with a two-thirds probability. Otherwise: Project managers with five parallel projects have only eight hours per project and week.
Increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) can no longer be mastered with the rigid structures of the past. Collaboration takes place across borders, wherever you look. The related structures are constantly changing and subsist on self-organizing actors who build, use and eventually resolve the necessary relationships. The result is a more or less dense network. Aside from today’s needs, where everything is just one click away, there are some arguments in favor of and against the use of networks.
The following ProCons affect not only networks but all types of communities.
The benefits cover more than just the economic interests of the companies.
Competence advantages The network draws its strength from the purposeful connection of resources and capabilities. The participants‘ intrinsic motivation provides the network with a long-term advantage ahead of other forms, which on the one hand require a lot of setup time and on the other hand never have comparable access to this amount of competencies.
Information advantages The actors provide a lot of information. This includes experience and knowledge about different markets, customers, products, technologies and, above all, business processes. By sharing this information (push vs. pull), they reach all network participants at a relatively high speed.
The actors already provide a variety of resources – material and immaterial goods and especially people. Contrary to other forms of organization, the network offers an adjustable openness that makes it possible to expand resources faster. Just the use of these resources of the actors provide means that otherwise would have to be procured with much effort. In addition, this tool is usually better suited that is brought by the craftsman.
Social advantages Getting to know like-minded people is a huge advantage for the actors. The sense of community offers an environment in which you can expect more pleasant working conditions and a trustworthy cooperation due to the same interests.
Economic advantages Looking at the entire network, there are many savings for the company. Cost advantages arise when the actors already bring additionally to their commitment many resources that do not need to be purchased. The combined competence accelerates the business and reduces the risks. Practicing self-organization in a network avoids delays caused by a hierarchical structure with its long decision-making and communication paths.
Against networks speak especially apparent extra efforts, unpredictability and the difficult control.
Even with all the advantages, networking requires active involvement of its members. The open procedures and the lack of centralized control require other efforts of the participants, which are perceived at first glance as additional expenses. However, much higher overall savings can be made for the company.
Even with a lot of engagement in disseminating information, there can be more double work in the self-organized network than in a tayloristic organization. The lack of control can lead to a competition for the best idea that would be wasteful.
Increased communication effort The multiplicity of actors increases the coordination effort, which can even not be avoided with agile approaches. New insights and experiences simply have to be shared, absorbed and processed. This effort is the price for a lot of advantages.
Cooperation issues Of course, because of the variety of characters, there will not only be sympathy, but also antipathies that can burden collaboration and trust and eventually lead to an increased need for mediation. This makes team building an important exercise.
Lack of control A strong driver for the formation of a network is the intrinsic appeal for each participant. Leadership could quickly disturb. At the same time, a network also needs a direction. Without centralized control, the network might take longer to reach an agreement.
Information loss The open structure of a network and the frequent participation of individual members in different networks automatically lead to the leakage of information. Lack of secrecy could endanger the network.
Bottom line: Although many aspects speak against creation and participation in a network, you have to face the fact that a VUCA world creates new conditions that function in a way that cannot be covered by traditional approaches. The competence, information, resource social, and economic advantages are arguments for the use of networks. At the same time, appropriate measures have to minimize the risks.