This post is published as part of a first ever project management related global blogging initiative to publish a post on a common theme at exactly the same time. 70+ bloggers from at least 13 countries have written articles as part of this event. The complete list of all participating blogs is found here. After reading mine, please check them out.
I’ll start this “sermon” with a question for you: suppose you were hiring a leader and a team for your next project, and you had to choose between these two options:
A) Great leader, mediocre team
B) Mediocre leader, great team
Which choice would you make?
I started my project management career as part of the “B” answer. I was still attending college, working as a programmer in a makeshift office in the basement of a camera store. My boss (the owner of the company) sold point of sale and accounting software which existed mostly in his head, and when he made a sale, he would sketch for us a rough idea of what the screens should look like, and those sketches served as our design documents. He spent the bulk of his time hustling for more sales, and would rarely check on us to see how the software development was progressing. This was okay; the developers worked very well together and we produced high quality code fairly quickly.
Looking back, I can see that we were a great team with a mediocre leader. He scoffed at us for staying in college and studying computer science, saying real education was gained in the workplace. In hindsight, I can see that there was a project management “system” in place, albeit a horrible one. I probably learned as much from him as anyone, even if it was lessons on how not to lead. Of course, with no real purpose or direction, the company was never successful and made no significant impact on the world. Our “projects” led us nowhere. It was my first experience working hard on something with nothing to look forward to and very little to show for my efforts.
After my college graduation, I got serious about software development and decided to attend graduate school and get a Master’s degree in Computer Science. Over the course of my studies, I fell in love with 3-D graphics and operating systems, and after my graduation in late 1986 I jumped at the chance to take a job where I got to work on operating system internals (Unix) after graduation.
Fate had other plans for me. For whatever reason, I was given an assignment to develop a project management application to be used in-house by the Software Development department. I was given a set of requirements and asked to develop software that met those requirements. Essentially, the managers wanted a tool to schedule people on projects and balance things so every project had enough people and no one person was over-scheduled.
I was also told to research the commercially available project management applications, and soon I had in my possession a copy of Microsoft Project Version 3 for MS-DOS and MacProject version 1. Although we ended up using the software I wrote (called balance), I played with both commercial applications enough to get hooked on project management. Later in my career, I ended up writing the world’s first viewer for Microsoft Project.
27 years later, I’m still hooked on project management.
The reasons are very simple:
- I believe that project management, when done right, transforms an organization.
- When applied on a project with a powerful vision, project management can change the world.
- For all of the volumes of books about PM processes, best practices, and methodologies, great project management begins and ends with great project managers.
Few things are more challenging and more satisfying than helping people become great project managers. I started my own project management software company 13 years ago with this purpose: making great project managers. Great project managers are often great leaders and coaches, and this brings me to my favorite quote about a coach.
Don Shula, former coach of pro football’s Miami Dolphins, holds the record for the most career wins and is considered one of the greatest coaches of all time. Bum Philips was the coach of the league’s Houston Oilers (before they moved to Nashville and changed their name to the Tennessee Titans). This is what Coach Philips, born and raised in the state of Texas, had to say about Coach Shula: “He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.” I’ll translate that from “Texan:” he’ll coach his team against your team and win, and he’ll coach your team against his team and win.
If you see truth in the quote, I can predict how you answered my question at the beginning of this sermon.
I love that quote for two reasons. First, I grew up watching Shula’s Dolphins win against opponents who were sometimes bigger and faster but never better coached. Second, it illustrates the power, influence, and importance of coaching and leadership in an organization. For the all the humble praise great leaders bestow upon their teams, I know how big a role the leader plays in their team’s success.
I’ve seen great teams fail miserably under mediocre leadership. No vision. No common objective. No credible plan. I’ve also seen a great leader turn average teams and make them great. I’ll choose
(A) Great leader, mediocre team
every time, because great leaders build great teams, but I’ve never seen the opposite happen.
So, what does Project Management mean to me? Very simply, it gave me my professional purpose: making better project managers.
Why do I care? Great project leaders make great projects. Great project management makes the difference between victory and mediocrity, between making history and wasting time and money, between just doing your job vs. fighting for a cause. Nothing else in my professional life has been as satisfying as leading successful projects and being on successful project teams. If you’ve been a member of or led a successful project team, I think you’ll agree with me.
Can I get an “Amen?”