Adaptive Project Leadership: Business Leader Impact

Written By David J. Boswell, PMP

The PMI Talent Triangle includes the three elements of Technical Project Management, Strategic & Business Management and Leadership. A project manager will adaptively select a leadership style depending on a multitude of factors associated with the project. These factors may include leader characteristics, team member characteristics, organizational characteristics and environmental characteristics*.

The business leader influence on the project manager’s leadership style is significant; it is an organizational process asset and its early identification is essential. The assessment of the business leader’s knowledge of the business system, as well as their expected level of project engagement should be done during the initiation phase of the project as input to the project manager's team management strategy.
The Business Leader Engagement/System Knowledge Profile (Exhibit I) is a tool for use by project managers to determine the leadership style most appropriate for the project.

Depending on the business leader’s level of project engagement and knowledge of the system within which the change is taking place, the project manager will apply varying types of leadership methods. These include: Co-lead; Lead & Analyze; Build, Analyze & Lead; Lead & Consult.

Adaptive-Leader

BUSINESS LEADER PROFILE CATEGORIES

       Project Engagement

The degree a business leader will engage in the project will determine project manager’s approach to leading the project team. Business leaders who are at the high end of project engagement exhibit the following behaviors:

  1. regularly attend core project team meetings
  2. actively manages issues and risk
  3. assumes accountability for tasks as they apply to the business
  4. self-integrates the project plan to daily management activities

Team members representing the business typically reflect the engaged leadership style of the business leader and are tightly organized. The culture of the business unit reflects the engaged leadership style.

Business leaders at the low end of project engagement are passively engaged in project activities; special effort on the part of the project manager is needed to keep the business leader engaged at essential knowledge and decision making points. Team members representing the business typically reflect the unengaged leadership style of the business leader and are loosely organized.

     System Knowledge

The business leader’s knowledge of the system within which the change will take place will determine the pathway for system change and solutioning. The “system” in this context encapsulates: information systems and work flows; indicates the end-to-end and co-dependent flows of each; and includes understanding of inputs and outputs of upstream and downstream systems. End-to-end current and future state models can be recorded with the least amount of effort under this leader. A business leader who has a high knowledge level of the system allows a single point of contact for system related matters. This leader has typically organized the team very effectively to ensure that his/her knowledge of the system is always current.

Business leaders having a low level of system knowledge forecasts the project manager’s need to conduct thorough system analysis early in order to create the end-to-end current and future state models. Descriptive detail of the system is not organized for quick access, if organized at all.

RELATIVE PROJECT MANAGER CHALLENGE INDEX

The Relative Project Manager’s Challenge Index is a ranking of each of the leadership style quadrants, relative to each other, indicating level of leadership challenge. The least challenging is when business leader is at the high end of both system knowledge and project engagement. The most challenging from a project leadership perspective is when the business leader is at the low ends of both system knowledge and project engagement.

ADAPTIVE LEADERSHIP BASED ON THE PROFILE

     High Project Engagement / High System Knowledge

     Project Manager Leadership Style: Co-Lead
     Relative PM Challenge Index: 1

The project manager can look to the business leader to be a very strong co-leader on the project. Within the areas of team, task and solution management the following can be expected:

  • Team management needs are light: the team will be well organized as a standard and exhibit strong cohesion.
  • Task management needs are light: open items don’t remain open due to the business leader’s walking knowledge of the system. Defined process ownerships among the team are a standard characteristic of the unit.
  • Solutioning turnaround is quick: thorough understanding of the system capabilities and limitations allow prompt identification and implementation of solutions.

     High Project Engagement / Low System Knowledge

     Project Manager Leadership Style: Lead & Analyze
     Relative PM Challenge Index: 2

The project manager can look to the business leader to be an engaged partner on the project but the business leader’s lack of system knowledge will limit his/her ability to help lead tasks and solutions. The project manager will need to lead the business leader. Within the areas of team, task and solution management the following can be expected:

  • Team management needs are moderate: the team will be supportive but not naturally organized in manner supportive of project work.
  • Task management needs are moderate: tasks are less likely to a have standard path of assignment and resolution.
  • Solutioning turnaround is moderate: lack of centralized and controlled understanding of the system will necessitate analytical work both up front and as solution needs arise.

     Low Project Engagement / High System Knowledge

     Project Manager Leadership Style: Lead & Consult
     Relative PM Challenge Index: 3

The project manager will need to take steps to ensure solid team formation and cohesion and will need to formalize steps to ensure engagement of the business leader. The project manager should create a strong consultative relationship with the business leader in order to receive detail for system understanding, current state documentation and future state validation. The consultative relationship will also be vital for the project manager to report out to the leader on project status, issues, etc. Within the areas of team, task and solution management the following can be expected:

  • Team management needs are moderate: the team will be supportive but not necessarily organized in manner supportive of project work.
  • Task management needs are heavy: Without business leader engagement, assume there is not a culture of proactive and energetic task ownership.
  • Solutioning turnaround is moderate: A single point of contact for systemic understanding will facilitate the work but access of the needed input and advisement can cause delays and extra work.

     Low Project Engagement / Low System Knowledge

     Project Manager Leadership Style: Build, Analyze & Lead
     Relative PM Challenge Index: 4

The project manager cannot look to the business leader to be an engaged partner on the project. As well, lack of system knowledge will limit the business leader’s ability to lead tasking and solutioning. The project manager will need to build and lead the team, and considerable work in system analysis should be expected. Within the areas of team, task and solution management the following can be expected:

  • Team management needs are heavy: the team will be supportive but not necessarily organized in manner supportive of project work.
  • Task management needs are heavy: Without business leader engagement, assume there is not a culture of proactive and energetic task ownership.
  • Solutioning turnaround is extended: lack of understanding of the system will necessitate analytical work both up front and as solution needs arise.

ROLE OF FORMAL VS INFORMAL BUSINESS LEADERS

Among the skillsets of the project manager is that of identifying key resources, wherever they may be and in some instances with disregard of the organizational position they hold. Though a leader on the business side may be the identified as the project champion, or the business leader of record, there may arise a person in the environment who steps up and serves the leadership role. These are the golden finds who fill an important void in the project.

ASSESS THE BUSINESS LEADER’S EXPECTED PROJECT CONTRIBUTION EARLY

The Business Leader Engagement/System Knowledge Profile is an excellent environmental assessment tool to use when conducting the initial environmental assessment and ascertaining the grade of input the project manager can expect from the leader. Business leaders are an organizational process asset and the early identification of their expected contribution to the project provides critical input to the project manager’s leadership style determination.

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* Project Management Institute. 2017. A Guide to the Project Management body of knowledge (PMBOK Guide) - Sixth Edition, Newton Square, PA: Author

About David J. Boswell
David Boswell is a Senior Project Manager with University Hospitals of Cleveland. David is the recipient of the 2015 Kerzner Project of the Year.

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