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Does Project Management Need to be Sexy to Succeed?


For most of us, outside of that elite band of Gantt chart experts, Project Management is one of the last things we’d consider to be “sexy”. Where’s the fame, glamour, money and power in being a Project Manager? This is the challenge that well-meaning project managers struggle with, asking themselves why other corporate functions may draw more attention from executives.

So does project management need to be “sexy” in order to be successful? In most cases, the answer is unfortunately – YES. Our natural human instinct is to move as quickly and painlessly as possible from inspiration to action to satisfaction. This can pose a challenge in managing a project, when much of the success depends on investing an appropriate amount of time in planning and thinking, rather than designing and building.

Inevitably, project sponsors and stakeholders will grow increasingly vocal in their desire to see tangible (visible) improvement. The Project Manager needs to temper this desire to jump to the conclusion, while also investing sufficient time into creating a comprehensive plan even though a great plan can save time and money later on.

Many of us have heard the cliché, “measure once, cut twice” (or conversely, measure twice, cut once) when it comes to home renovations. That old adage applies even more to our business projects – perhaps even more so with corporate budgets and jobs on the line. However, the reality is that many projects end-up “cutting twice”, but since we’re dealing with limited budgets this usually means either abandoning the project all together, or making significant reductions in the project’s scope. In either case, the true benefits that the project was meant to deliver don’t come to fruition, leaving the project manager to answer questions about “why?”. Since our society focuses on results for “sexiness” it appears that project management is destined to be the awkward wallflower at the corporate dance.

So how does Project Management elevate itself from the sidelines and onto the catwalk? Rather than leading engaging lunch-and-learn seminars on the virtues of Project Management for our corporate colleagues, here are some more practical recommendations:

1. Focus on identifying the true benefits for your project. Answer the question, “How will things be better when we’re done?”. This doesn’t mean that the project needs to cure cancer, but it does need to offer tangible, relevant improvements to the performance of the business and these improvements must outweigh the costs of the project itself. Does the project offer enough value to justify the costs (both financial and personal)?

Once you identify those benefits, keeping the carrot out in front of the team and the organization is critical. Don’t dismiss the value of a good communications plan for your project. 

2. Turn your Sponsor into your Champion. Many organizations and the individuals within will look to the project’s sponsor to gauge the level of importance for the project. Assuming that the Sponsor has the right level of authority and influence, the only other thing they need to do is demonstrate enthusiasm and tangible support for the project and the project manager.

As a project manager, it’s critical to keep the Sponsor engaged throughout the project. From the beginning, the Sponsor needs to understand their role and your expectations for their support and guidance throughout the project.

3. Celebrate your successes. For the most part, arrogance isn’t sexy, but being proud of having a good track record of on-time, on-budget projects is important. More important is the emphasis on how these projects have benefitted the organization. This ties back to the first recommendation above – clear and meaningful benefits are important.

Tangible benefits such as cost savings, improvements in customer service or quality, or successful growth of the business are things that catch people’s attention. Delivering a project on-time and on-budget is only important if that project delivered some meaningful benefits to the company.

In our busy, complicated, corporate culture there’s little room for attention for anything that isn’t “sexy”. A good project manager needs to have sound fundamental skills, but they also need to take the necessary steps to give their project the right level of attractiveness to keep everyone from the Sponsor to Stakeholders focused and on-board.