Published on June 25, 2019
Updated on January 27, 2020
Read time 12 minutes
Project Management Vs. Leadership – How nTask evolved From an Early Start up to a Robust Industry Competitor
Project management often reflects tangible results that managers crave. However, a lot of that success factor is riding on proper planning and execution. No matter how dynamic “project management” itself is, some of the changes to the core organization structure can be scary.
We think that we are integrating a new style of management or something innovative that’s going on in the industry just because it is working for some of the popular competitors. In reality, it turns out to be a face dive in sweet mother earth. Kinda’ reminds me of that scene from ‘George of the Jungle’: “Bad guys always fall into poo”.
Video Source: ProjectManager.Com
Management disasters are usually associated with a long road to recovery. Some companies are forced to lay off. Others head to a foreclosure and vice versa. Eventually, it comes down to the following approach:
- Strategic Leadership
- Project Management
This is a multi-tier approach. Although leadership and management are arguably switchable roles, the usual chain of command goes from top to bottom. Plans are made at a strategic level and executed at the project manager’s level.
Leadership and Project Management Is a Two-Faced Coin:
When I say it is a two-faced coin, the emphasis is on the correlation factor. Sometimes, leaders need to manage after declaring epic goals within an organization. And sometimes, project managers need to take control at the managerial level. They are responsible for reporting everything to company heads, but the board is usually concerned with profits, objective completion and an overall win-win situation.
Arguably, project managers are responsible for doing both: i.e. leadership and management. In the early 90s, and long before that, leadership had a very different mentality. I can recall our strategic management teacher quite vividly. He’d tell us about “popular” management schools of thought, such as; the “Just do it” mentality.
“Just do it” focused on leaders, and managers dealing with organization-wide obstacles that came by as problems originated. Eventually, it didn’t work. Since technology changed for the better, and companies expanded beyond obvious demographic boundaries, “just do it” thing couldn’t be applied anymore.
Plans had to be made in advance, the communication needed to be top-notch, and many other things affected a company’s output. We can say that those factors that were considered somewhat menial, eventually transitioned into a goliath like shape, where prior constituency plans had to be set in place.
How nTask Evolved to Overcome Project Management Related Obstacles?
As a startup, nTask faced a lot of issues. Admittedly, we were, and still, are, equipped with a lot of skilled youngsters who are capable of taking it all to the next level. However, some of the issues naturally come by as new organizations are founded.
So, if you are an aspiring founder, or a co-founder, of a startup, I’d love for you to take a look at the following dilemmas. Take it as a piece of personal advice that will come handy at some point.
The Dreaded Silo Mentality:
Silo mentality is more of a naturally occurring pitfall. There are two elements of silo mentality; one of which has to play with office politics. But first, the traditional silo mentality problem comes as a result of project managers not sharing information across their subdivisions.
As a result, team members were not well informed to execute because they weren’t exactly clear on the data element. At this point, I’d also like to point out the distinction between “data” and “goals”. Your project manager will most likely fill you in on the month’s end goal, but the question is, does he provide you with data and all the necessary information to complete the task?
The second element of silo mentality is a select circle of employees surrounding a project manager. There is an occasional dab of office mentality too. What happens is that over a few months’ time period, the project manager happens to make a few chums out of a handful of employees. They form a small circle where ideas and disciplines are shared. However, that critical information is not shared at other colleagues’ level. As a result, that dreaded white elephant steps into the department. No one admits to his existence, but everyone knows about him. Eventually, when a department head finds out about it, he is forced to break apart that silo.
This is exactly what we did at one point. Other than breaking the silo thing, we also reorganized our office’s physical setting. Members were shuffled across different desks and a more open system was set up where cubicles were demolished. Hearts were broken perhaps; many metaphorical tears were shed but over the next few weeks, all the team members of that department developed strong communication skills. Work resumed at an abrupt flow and we overcame an early-on issue at the right time.
Lack of Diversity:
You have heard about the “my way or the highway” mentality, right? Yeah, this is a norm that tends to repeat itself from time to time. I recall my first vivid interaction with our company head at nTask. We were just explaining ideas about expansion, and he laid it out to me flat, “Fred, we have often seen project managers who happen to be “know it all types.” This discourages team members from submitting and executing constructive ideas because their manager is sometimes not seeing things their way.”
And I said, “Yeah, I’d occasionally take collective opinions from everyone instead of sticking my ears to one “competent” person for all kinds of advice related to project expansion. Anyhow, we all had a big laugh and got away with a valuable lesson.
Transactional Relationships are a Big No!
Trust me, when you start to judge your team members or people from the other department based on their performance on last activity, the thing is going to get haywire anytime soon. At the end of the day, we are dealing with a human being; hence the expression: “Human Resource Management” was birthed.
Instead of forming transactional relationships, evaluate your coworkers on the basis of their overall performance. You will have sustainable allies based around mutual trust. On a side note, if you are into transactional level performance, it will eventually bite you by putting you at the barrel’s end of the gun. Someday, your most recent project performance will be evaluated by someone at the higher end of the food chain. You will probably be denied that raise, or worst-case scenario, you will probably be laid off.
Define a Communication Matrix with SOPs:
This is mandatory in case you don’t want your startup to suffer because of communication gaps. Essentially, you should also define the radical importance of good, but relevant information. Project managers are supposed to relay the right information to concerned members ON TIME and get the right messages across the entire team.
Secondly, create a standard operation protocol manual at each departmental level. Let’s say, you have a project manager heading the content creation department. Instruct the fella’ on creating a department-wide manual to detail how to communicate in case of certain problems, and which member is supposed to roleplay according to that particular situation.
You will be amazed at how much clutter these SOPs can remove. Especially, when new team members are inducted during an ongoing project, they won’t have to waste time on “learning” certain protocols.
We noticed that some of the new nTask team members were struggling with wrapping their heads around a few things. Eventually, our project managers responsible for heading their departments created handbooks that outlined common problems, objectives, roles, and responsibilities, etc. It worked like a charm. And you know what? It all happened during the early stages of founding nTask. After that, we were relieved at not having to deal with the same issues over and over again.
In Practice, Management and Leadership Don’t Fit Into Their Own Boxes:
If you have been in business school, you might as well have learned about different schools of thoughts. There are case studies done on various companies, where students debate a plausible exit strategy and how the said business could have survived whatever issue is highlighted in the case study.
What we didn’t know back then was that things are very different in real-life business situations. They are not always so “simple” as summarized in management textbooks. Although project managers have to encompass coordination, influencing and other organizational activities to the company’s advantage.
In theory, this is all very concise, but things tend to jump out of their boxes sometimes. Managers have to decide the exact pathway from point A to point B. Leaders, on the other hand, define the overall goal. They are usually responsible for setting up a vision.
From real-life experience, it’s the project managers or department heads who are the real leaders. They have to improvise a lot in order to create order and all the necessary changes. Regardless, both these concepts are correlated to one another, and often times they overlap without giving any warning signals.
4 Things nTask Applied To Kickstart As an Early Startup
Doing It Like Koontz and O’Donnell:
Harold Koontz and Cyril O’Donnell were the masterminds behind, “Principles of Management.” Although, as a startup, the entire nTask team had to improvise a lot, we kept our activities categorized around the well-accepted list of Koontz and O’Donnell.
They have divided management into different activities. Even if you are dealing with project managers, I am sure that they can sub-allocate their goals and objectives across:
Space where project management has to decide on different concepts before adopting a course of action. How to do this; what to do in the worst case scenario and many other functional derivatives go into planning.
Since we are working as a project management software company, we had to devise new plans in the middle of our formidable years. After the launch of Version 1.0, numerous testers and customers haphazardly reported the addition of requested features alongside core bugs that were not seen by us.
Therefore, we committed to creating plans that were not originally part of the “grand” scheme. What we learned was the ability to be flexible and the tenacity to do more than what we were capable of. I believe that companies that are rigid, and don’t innovate internally as pressure from outside builds up, they eventually crumble.
We all know about it; without organizing, there’s not a lot to go on with. This function calls for setting up resources and allocating a budget against everything. At least, that’s how we did it. Resources are your tangible and intangible assets.
For instance, talk about human resource and how you will be able to steer them in the right direction. Likewise, the element of payroll comes into play when we are dealing with human resource. After all, we are renting their time and it has to be paid for at the end of the month.
Staffing is extremely important. Trust me because you can either soar above the clouds as a startup or drown among the competitors. The nTask management panel is responsible for sorting resume’s and making sure that the right kind of candidates is shortlisted.
Some positions call for taking on-site tests. We constantly update our testing criterion to evaluate candidates for the job position. If a test is too easy; you will end up hiring an incapable person who’s not equipped to deal with more complex technical aspects of the job. Consider placing a multi-step process to filter out deserving applicants.
Likewise, you should create a plan to promote and encourage your staff to keep up the morale factor. We also had to create new positions as demand for our services increased. Although we are not perfect at the moment, because we are at the brink of releasing our biggest Version 2.0 launch, we recommend staffing for healthy evolution.
For instance, some positions call for a guy who can manage his work activities alone. Likewise, there are positions that need to be filled in by a team leader. If the team leader is not skilled, or he’s not “staffing” his subordinates properly, that particular department will tank at some point.
Staffing also means that project managers need to take charge of the mutual trust factor. We’ve had a few setbacks like any organization where a certain employee was hired. The expectations at our side were high, until all of a sudden the fellow stops showing up. It turns out to be some sort of misunderstanding or lack of loyalty. Usually, these kinds of employees promise to deliver on a high note, but once they get a better job opportunity from a competitor, their moral compass effs up.
We make sure that we are hiring and staffing our human assets. More importantly, these individuals have to have their professional goals aligned with nTask goals. Otherwise, our company would have regressed instead of progressing.
Directing & Controlling:
These last two bits are connected with one another. Directing involves directly supervising, motivating and communicating across the organizational structure. However, for “directing” to work, you need to set up a proper organizational hierarchy.
Speaking of structure, it deviates me from the topic right now, but make sure that you know your organizational structure. Some of the popular structures are based around:
2. Matrix Organization
3. Projected Organization
Directing becomes significantly important at project managers’ level.
Controlling takes it a step ahead. Peter Drucker once said, “You cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Controlling is all about measuring your department’s performance against a preset number of objectives. If the outcome is not scaling with those objectives, there’s something wrong.
We don’t like to pressure our employees for project updates, but there’s a glass door with a temporary marker that inks core objectives from time to time. Project managers should be at freedom to direct control whenever they feel necessary.
Meanwhile, it’s the leaders’ job to oversee whether that project manager is properly exercising his rights or not. Some project managers like to jack it up by overly asserting, or adopting aggressive tactics. That’s not a good strategy from a long term perspective.
Factors That Might Influence Your Project Management Workflow:
Some of the factors may influence your leadership and project management strategies. For instance, you can take the example of different cultures that originate and from within your company. It starts from a very small scale – think of early founders’ timeline and move ahead to the present date of establishment.
You will have your own culture; trust me on this. The way you deal with risks; tolerance levels associated with them, and the overall operating environment and different policies that are set up to deal with those stigmas.
Motivation & Rewards System:
Like any good company, we have a strong motivation and rewards system. We also encourage initiative. Some employees like to bring up side projects, or any other activity that has to deal with motivating remaining co-workers.
As a company head at the managerial level, or leadership level, you will know the kind of culture your organization has. Sometimes, despite a scattered/ flat physical setup, employees don’t communicate that well with each other. You can encourage them to setup at-least once-in-a-month sort of activity revolving around motivational speaking, experience sharing, and vice versa. It’s that time of the month where there’s a frank and open environment, and everyone gets to speak their mind about the agenda of that “get together.”
Eventually, you will notice employees opening up to bond with one another. These sort of activities are great for maintaining the morale of the company. People are complex to deal with; it’s an unavoidable dilemma of human resource management. So, conduct productive activities and learn more about your organizational culture.
Heck, if you don’t have much of a “culture” factor, to begin with, you can always start with creating something new. The culture is an enterprise environmental factor. They form styles and help project managers to affect a project in a favorable manner.
We Use Slack for Communication – What’s Your Medium of Expression?
Slack has helped us to deal with the communication side of things. Initially, we would call impromptu meetings where managers had to walk from one length of the office to another. Someone suggested Slack integration over the entire intranet, and the next day, we were all connected like bees within a big hive.
Most of our electronic communication shifted from emails to Slack. Although e-mails are still a long-lasting way of maintaining confidential information between company heads and employees, Slack is best for overall work-related activities.
Besides, if you have Slack or an equivalent software working for you, you will hardly open emails and IMs to convey important information. It saves time, it is less noisy and people can get on with their work without physically getting up from their seat every now and then. Do you have a question? Send a PM to the concerned party/ person through Slack.
What Are Your Thoughts as a Veteran Project Manager?
As a seasoned project manager in your company, what are your thoughts about project management and leadership? What were some of the core changes you make at the subordinate level? More importantly, what have you learned from mistakes in your career as a project manager or a company leader?
Over the next few years, especially after version 2.0 launch, we are anticipating a lot of changes. Some of the challenges are not even foreseen right now, but we are willing to learn and adapt. At least, that’s what matters in the end.
How about you? Are you anticipating any changes within the next few years of your induction? Are they related to your company, or does that change affect the overall industry? I would love to hear back from you; in fact, our entire team has its ears on the ground as to what you have to say.
Don’t forget to comment, share and give input about project management in your company. Your valued feedback is critical to keeping the discussion alive.
Good luck out there!
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