Do You Have What it Takes to be a Superhero Project Manager?

In honor of "National Superhero Day" on 4/28 this year, this article talks about how to be a superhero project manager. It can be a very good thing and a resume boost and an ego boost – or it can turn out very badly and be a disaster. And, the biggest frustration factor in all of this is that if it deemed a failure at the end anyway, there may have been nothing or not enough within your own control to really truly turn around – nothing you could do about it. But you will be forever tied to this failed project – so choose your projects carefully if you have that luxury of choosing. Usually you don’t, so do some planning in your first steps of taking over a troubled project. First, let’s define what project success really means. For me, there are three main ingredients or yardsticks to measure against for project success. Was the project on time? Was the project on budget? Was the project customer satisfied at the end of the project with the delivery, execution and final outcome of the project? If you fail on any of these, then you are definitely no superhero. Not even close. When you’re asked to come in and save a project, there’s always a bit of an adrenaline rush. You realize that you’re being deemed an expert to some degree and management really needs you. Badly. You’re coming in as the savior. Are you coming in from the outside as a consultant or from the inside as an employee? Which is better? Which would you prefer? I’ve done both and I definitely know which I prefer. In every case, every time, I would prefer to come in as the consultant. Why? Read on… PM EMPLOYEE AS HERO It’s nice when you’re an employee of the organization that needs your savior status on a project. You look great – initially at least – to everyone and these are people you already know. It can be a real ego boost to get a lot of recognition quickly from your peers and immediate supervisors that you’ve been working with for awhile. If things go well and you truly do turn out to be the hero, what happens then? Does success = promotion, increase in pay, and maybe a bigger office? Perhaps. But it can also mean that you just go back to maintaining the status quo once the project has been saved and the assignment is over. Unless you had some offer in writing that is contingent on success, then you have no guarantee that things will change after success has been realized. What if you fail? What then? Failure on a critical project = you could lose your job. At best you keep your job but have the failure stigma with you forever. Worst-case scenario = you’re shown the door with your belongings in a box. PM CONSULTNT AS HERO Now let’s consider the scenario where you come in as a consultant to ‘save the day.’ You may already have perceived ‘guru’ status coming in because, well, they brought you in apparently because no one inside could do it. You don’t have the jealous peer employees hoping you screw up. In fact, even if there is some ill will for you among employees you’re probably pretty untouchable because executive management doesn’t want their employees getting in your way and slowing you down as that would only mean they have to pay you for more of your high dollar consulting hours. If you’re successful, what happens? Well, as the consultant, success likely = continued consulting, possibly a high-paying job offer from the organization, and consulting referrals. And if you fail? Failure may still = continued consulting with the same organization as it was a difficult situation anyway. You may still get a job offer if you want it. And since you were already a well-paid consultant, any further work still = high pay. The worst-case scenario is the consulting gig comes to a screeching halt. But there are other gigs and since you live your life with some degree of uncertainty, the end of the consulting gig is not nearly as traumatic as the end of the employee-employer relationship can be. SUMMARY/CALL FOR INPUT This may all seem obvious on the first read. But the ego thing can’t be overlooked. Everyone wants their ego stroked from time to time. I’m just trying to point out that – at least from my experience – the ego stroking is short-lived or non-existent if you’re already inside the company. There’s a certain expectation. A certain, “We’re already paying for it” mindset. The energy, the sense of urgency, the rallying around and getting it done emotion is just not the same as it is if you’re coming in as the consultant. Everyone jumps to attention for the consultant. They believe they must and that it’s an expectation. Sort of like the difference between the regular family dinner and the one where you have guests joining you for dinner. Everyone elevates their behavior somewhat – even if it’s just initially on the outside. Energy is higher, conversation is more diverse, and the food is usually even better! Readers – what are your thoughts on this topic as most of us have been through it in one way or another? What are your experiences when coming in to save projects? If you’ve been selected to ‘save the day’ both from the inside and as a consultant, which is better? Which brought more cooperation, more recognition, more productivity, and more energy?
Online 5/17/2022
Brad Egeland