Saturday, 07 November 2015 12:22

The Executive-Project Manager Gap

Rate this item
(2 votes)

It was such an innocuous question, "Working on an article; what is the biggest problem you see with project governance at orgs? Can you comment?" Can I comment? Really? That is like cheese to a mouse. Where could I start—bureaucracy, draconian process, poor executive sponsorship, disengaged leaders? Plenty of fodder, because they all lead to project failure. I fired off, "Creating an over bureaucratic morass stifling innovation & implementing process instead of cultivating leaders." Then the maelstrom started and it went directly to the gap between the executives and projects managers. Naomi Caietti, Robert Kelly and I had a great conversation. Most of the thread is below.

The Gap

What gap, you say? The gap that happens in any project review where project managers come into the room with charts and graphs that say there are 243 tasks completed since the last review and 17 more falling behind schedule (due to 3 change orders ). The earned value is 11.3% better that the last review, but that could be because the offshore resources do not understand how to use the reporting tool. The estimate at completion is now 28.9% higher than reported three months ago due to the charge orders and the customer is anxious about their operations team really understanding what is changing in their processes.

The executives keep a steady gaze on the charts and, with a troubled look, the CEO asks, "Will we deliver before I have to announce the quarterly earnings and are we maintaining our margin?" The PM looks back with a blank stare.

I am talking about that gap—big, gray, and looks like an elephant.

The Problem

The problem is pretty simple project managers have no clue what an executive does for a living and the executive has probably never run a project. After all executives most likely came up from the sales, marketing, or operations. They were always on the receiving end of projects—the customer that got the project's deliverable. They had operational things to do.

Operations: the Antithesis of Projects

Let's remember the definition of a project a temporary endeavor to create a unique product or service. That is not operations. Operations never end (hopefully). Projects are temporary undertakings that add some new capability. They change the organization and, as what they are doing is new, they have risk. How many people in operations like change, risk, or both? Yep, none. Therefore, on one side to the table there are a bunch of risk averse, stay-the-course executives, while on the other side are project managers who like the temporary nature of their work, change is cool, and risk makes the job exciting. No wonder there is communication gap.

Unfortunately, neither party interprets this correctly. Project managers feel that executives do not think that project management has value. Executives think... well... let me give you a quote: "I hate being an executive sponsor. The PM comes in and spends ten minutes spewing out a bunch of techno-babble that has no bearing on how to run a business and then they want me to make some decision on what to change in the project."

What is Done Too Often

Some people (mostly my project manager friends) say the answer is to train executives in project management. Seriously? You are going to send your CEO to a PMP® or PRINCE2® prep-course? Others think you should add a PMO to translate the project techno-babble into executive speak. So they create a PMO, promote a couple of great PMs into the manager ranks, and you have the same issue as the people running the PMO are former project managers. Their solution is to interview the executives and find out what data they need and then filter every project status report to fit that format. The result is executives getting the wrong data as the real status does not fit into the PMO's "box." Still, no one knows if the projects are on target to support the corporate goals. This is why hiring outside contractors is so valuable in rescuing troubled projects—they cut through the filters

What You Should Do

The answer is role-appropriate education. Three actions need to happen:

  1. Capture how the corporate goals relate to each project. Disseminate this to everyone in the organization. Use a tool like balanced scorecard so that everyone from the CEO to the janitor understands how they are contributing to the corporate goals.
  2. Define the executive sponsor role with a formal job description and hire coaches (probably from the outside) that can work with the executive sponsors to make sure they are addressing the project managers' issues.
  3. Send your project managers to leadership training. This is far more important than methodology training (PMP or PRINCE2). They need to understand how to lead without authority. This is 80% of their job. They rarely have authority over their team and the never have authority over their stakeholder.

This will yield results beyond your wildest dreams. True failures will become a bad memory of days gone by, troubled and problem projects will diminish, communication will happen, people will be excited to come to work, your customers and stockholders will be happy, and your company will meet its goals. What else do you need?

Your thoughts?

What have you done to accomplish this? We would all love to hear!

Following is a excerpt of the Twitter conversation referenced in this article. Please feel free to reply or re-tweet any of these items and continue the conversation.
Read 93313 times

Related items

  • People vs Process Track Session/Keynote Example

    If you want educational keynote many of our presentations can be keynotes or track sessions. In the example below, the presentation People or Process: Which Impacts Project Success More? is given as a track session.  

    Example People vs Process keynote as a track session

    This session was given at the PMI Sioux Empire Professions Development Day help in Sioux Falls SD on September 9, 2014.

  • Transform Your Project Leadership: For Professionals Leading Projects or Company Initiatives

    Todd Williams contributed Chapter 7, "Leaders Listen." You can buy it on Amazon.

    More coming soon!

  • Filling Execution Gaps: How Executives and Project Managers Turn Corporate Strategy into Successful Projects
    What Filling Execution Gaps Covers

    Filling Execution Gaps

    by Todd C. Williams
    ISBN: 978-1-5015-0640-6
    De G Press (DeGruyter), September 2017

    Project alignment, executive sponsorship, change management, governance, leadership, and common understanding. These six business issues are topics of daily discussions between executives, middle management, and project managers; they are the pivotal problems plaguing transformational leadership. Any one of these six, when improperly addressed, will hex a project's chances for success. And, they do—daily—destroying the ability companies to turn vision into value.

    Check it out on Amazon or the Filling Execution Gaps website

    Without the foundation of a common understanding of goals and core concepts, such as value being critical to success, communication stops and projects fail.

    Without change management, users fail to adopt project deliverables, value is lost, and projects fail.

    Without maintaining alignment between corporate goals and projects, projects miss their value targets and projects fail.

    Without an engaged executive sponsor, scope increases, goals drift, chaos reigns, value is lost, and projects fail.

    Without enough governance, critical connections are not made, steps are ignored, value is overlooked, and projects fail.

    Too much governance slows progress, companies cannot respond to business pressures, value drowns in bureaucracy, and projects fail.

    Without strong leadership defining the vision and value, goals are not set, essential relationships do not form, teams do not develop, essential decisions are not made, and projects fail.

  • Filling Execution Gaps: Building Success-Focused Organizations

    Executives define vision, strategy, and goals to advance the business. Projects enable companies to meet those goals. Between strategy and projects, there is a lot of work to be done—work that lays the foundation for project and operational success. Through experience and research, six common gaps exist in organizations that inhibit project success—an absence of common understanding, disengaged executive sponsors, misalignment with goals, poor change management, ineffective governance, and lackluster leadership.

  • Get Recognized as a Leader: Four Core Leadership Actions

    Leaders make decisions. This requires a core set of actions to gather the best information, hear out the concerns of others, and making a decision that everyone will follow—even if there is not unanimous agreement with the decision. Although there are hundreds of actions leaders must take, there are four core actions that all great leaders do—listening, dialog and discussion, selling a vision, and eliminating blame. This session will discuss those actions in a roundtable format that we call a "What Would You Do?" session. In these sessions, the presenter acts as a moderator spending 10 to 15 minutes per topic working with the audience talking about what the action is, how to best do it, and hearing from the group on how they have carried out the action. This brings significant audience interaction, involvement, and broader education. 

Leave a comment

Filling Execution Gaps

Available Worldwide

Filling Exectution Gaps cover

Filling Execution Gaps is available worldwide. Below are some options.


PG DirectLogo
Limited Time Price $20.99
Amazon logo
Book or Kindle
Flag of the United States Canadian Flag Flag of the United Kingdom Irish Flag Deutsche Flagge
Drapeau Français Bandiera Italiana PRC flag
Japanese flag
Bandera de España
Flag of India
Bandera de México
Bandeira do Brasil
Flag of Australia
Vlag van Nederland
DeG Press Logo
Barnes and Noble Logo
Books a Million Logo
Booktopia Logo
Worldwide: Many other
book sellers worldwide.

Rescue The Problem Project

Internationally acclaimed

Image of RPP

For a signed and personalized copy in the US visit the our eCommerce website.

Amazon logo
Buy it in the United States Buy it in Canada Buy it in the United Kingdom
Buy it in Ireland Buy it in Germany Buy it in France
Buy it in Italy Buy it in the PRC
Buy it in Japan
Book sellers worldwide.

Other's References

More Info on Project Recovery

Tell me More!

Please send me more information
on fixing a failing project.

Upcoming Events