Saturday, February 03, 2007

Week 22 (Building a PMO) - POWER!!

Power – yes, power, it brings up all sorts of negative references – “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” being the most famous. Well power exists and it is used and misused every day, mostly misused or abused. I’ve recently been able to observe and better understand the workings of power. I’ve seen manipulation, abuse and absence. I want to talk about the absence of power as my current assignment has taught me a lot about that.

First, let me talk about the difference between power and influence. Influence is absolutely necessary and vital to everything we do. When you can use influence do so, use power only as a last resort. No matter what position you have, working jointly with someone and using your mutual respectful relationship to come to a decision is infinitely preferable to using power – EXCEPT – when you can’t agree, or there is not a relationship of mutual respect.

So therein lays the benefits (even necessity) of power. As hard as it is to believe, not every working relationship is one of mutual respect and cooperation – no news flash there! Now, I think the first job of all of us is to create that kind of relationship. Everyone benefits when these relationships exist, including the company and the stockholders. Therefore, it is inherent in your job as a manager to build and maintain these relationships and influence. But sometimes, things just have to get done. That is when power can be adeptly applied towards success. Where there is no power, there are problems.

Consultants have a unique perspective on power. We are ultimately powerless. Any perceived power is simply a very strong and widespread influence. Being the only expert in the room often gives the illusion of power but, as we have all seen, power trumps influence. Being powerless is a great motivator to learning about power – trust me on this one! One thing I am learning is that when power is not defined and understood by all, there is a level of chaos that is expensive and detrimental.

A project without ONE single project manager is a project at risk. The more project managers the more risk. This seems so obvious that you might wonder why I am saying this. Power and politics often create situations where there are multiple project managers. In my current assignment there are at least 3 projects managers on the two major projects. One could argue that there are as many as five on one of them. The organization started simply enough and the story goes something like this:

We have a project that will involve many different areas of the company – it’s important to all of us, so we want each area to assign one of their best people to the project (and part-time only, but that’s a later blog). Of course this usually means managers get assigned and usually some wrangling goes on where these people all end up being at the same organizational level (i.e. pay grade). So now we have 3 to 5 managers all with separate areas of control as the “appointed leaders” of their area. Here is where organizational culture comes in.

In most organizations territory is closely guarded, so each appointee has some mandate from their management to protect the interests of their group. There is also some tacit or actual agreement that each appointee will have “final say” or power over anything that impacts that area. See the problem? Makes you want to scream right. Believe it or not al this seems very logical from the point of view of those making these decisions. Well to my eyes, here is the 800 pound gorilla. THIS IS A PROJECT !!

This project must be impacting multiple organizations or we would not have involved them, so there will be many decisions that impact every organization involved and some of those will have to favor one over another. Since we now have a group of equals who are first dedicated to their organization, they will fight for the decision that is in their interest. This can lead to a plethora of wasteful activities. Imaging if these people are not working from a position of mutual respect and trust! That means a struggle at almost every decision – and projects have a lot of decisions!

One of the ideas of projects is to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. With shared (and I use that term loosely) responsibility, each leader is looking out for their area and the picture of the project to them consists of “mine” and “not mine.” This creates several problems. Not everyone’s definitions of mine/not mine agree, so you have areas that several people feel they own (mine, mine); and those areas that no one owns (not mine, not mine). The only place where there is harmony is when something thinks they own something and everyone else considers that thing “not mine.”

Conflict arises when the views of the appointees do not agree. Obviously, if several of us think something is ours, a direct conflict over ownership and the power to decide ensues. If everyone thinks something is “not mine”, then we might all just drop it, or even better one of us might decide that that something is “yours” and YOU need to do something about it. Ah what fun that is! Try to get someone to work on something for which they have no sense of ownership! So begins the joyous practice of finger pointing and CYA that we all enjoy.

What a load of crap – all this because some people were more interested in having some power than in getting the work done for the company. Here a single, responsible person with power can save huge amounts of money and time and achieve success for everyone. Seems too many of us would rather lead in hell than be part of a winning team which I guess explains a lot of the working environments out there today.

I need to think of some way of creating a scenario or game that shows how ineffective this is … hmm.

1 comment:

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