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Is Every Employee a Project Manager in Today's World?

written by: Michele McDonough • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 10/18/2012

In theory, getting more people to think like project managers may sound like a great idea, but what about those employees who thrive in different types of working environments? Could encouraging this type of mindset actually be detrimental in some cases - to both the organization and the individual?

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    A New Way of Thinking

    Should every employee be asked to think like a project manager? There’s no question that the professional work environment has changed quite a bit over the last decade – or that it continues to evolve. Instead of enforcing strict hierarchical structures and supporting the “I just do what I’m told” mentality, organizations are promoting more collaborative efforts and encouraging employees to take ownership of their ideas and responsibilities. Words like “empowerment” and “team-building” get tossed around a lot, and leaders seem to be genuinely concerned with employee satisfaction and how it influences productivity. But, is there a limit to how far we can push these ideas without taking other considerations into account?

    As part of a great discussion on up and coming PM trends in a recent blog post on PMI’s Voices on Project Management, V. Srinivasa Rao talked about the concept of every employee being a project manager. No, this doesn’t mean that the dedicated position of project manager should disappear and organizations should just start throwing any person they can find into PM roles (even though that’s been known to happen fairly often). Instead, it refers to getting everyone to adopt a project management mindset and, as Rao describes, to start thinking about every task as a “tiny project.”

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    Is This Really a Good Thing?

    My initial reaction to this concept was a bit skeptical. Wouldn’t this lead to a lot of cases of over-thinking a task? After all, over-analyzing a task can be just as problematic as under-analyzing one – especially if it leads to a situation in which you’re spending so much time planning what you need to do that you don’t have time left to actually do anything. But, the more I thought about it, I realized that this potential issue is one that was more likely to be cured by taking on a PM mentality than caused by it since good project management includes good time management, among other things.

    On the other hand, I think we need to be careful to not dismiss the importance of individual work styles and personalities. Some people are natural planners who love to have every aspect of a project or task mapped out before they get started, and others are far more comfortable when they can just jump in, get to work and make adjustments on-the-go. Some people are more productive when they’re working under deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise), and others actually perform much better when they don’t have that ominous clock ticking away in the corner of their brain. And, some people are happier when they’re getting continuous feedback every step of the way while others just want everyone to leave them alone until they’re ready to share what they’ve done.

    On a general scale, I do feel it’s important to make it clear how every task – no matter how menial or inconsequential it seems – fits into the big picture. And, if you can’t figure out how it fits into the big picture, then it’s time to question if it really needs to be done. That is, everyone should have some type of understanding as to why they’re doing something and why it’s important, but does putting too many requirements on “how” to do a task help or hinder productivity and quality of work? The answer to that really depends on a lot of factors, including the personality of the individual who will be doing the work. Sure, there are best practices for almost every situation, but should we consider these best practices to be actual rules or suggestions?

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    What Are Your Thoughts?

    Instead of continuing to go back and forth on the pros and cons of trying to push a self-project management philosophy out to the masses, it might be a good idea to step back and think about our own observances first. Has your experience in managing projects and/or being a part of a project team helped you become more efficient and productive when working on other non-project tasks? Have you witnessed cases when trying to encourage self-management in a project environment (or any other environment, for that matter) backfired? If you have examples or stories to share, please leave a comment – we’d love to hear from you!

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