Beyond Command & Control

FROM THE EDITOR: The story of Better Practice could have a whole chapter dedicated to our newest guest author. "Are you writing all of this down somewhere?" he asked me years ago. It is with gratitude and joy that we welcome David Gerring to Team Performance Matters. May this article be the first of many.

Many of us in the project management discipline have practiced a hierarchical and directive style of people and project management for most of our careers. We were trained, encouraged, and expected to play a specific role: use traditional supervisor/worker management techniques to direct the activities of the people on our projects to create value for our clients.

In the 1990’s and 2000’s there was a lot of emphasis on the transformation from management to leadership. While much has been said and written on the merits of different leadership styles, many still practiced a directive approach to leadership. I was one of the many.

Frankly, it worked… until it didn’t.

Let’s face it, the fundamentals of project management haven’t changed all that much over the years. We need to understand, monitor and manage scope, cost, priorities, communications, risks, issues, etc. So what has changed? For me, it was the personal growth to look at teams and team efforts in a different way. There are better ways to govern projects: better not only for the success of the project, but also better for the health and performance of the team.

A few years back I was the project manager for a large technology integration project involving about 30 software developers and analysts. The team included client staff, contractors, and consultants. We had a fairly robust governance structure and plan, and a diverse group of some really smart people. We were also having great difficultly being successful.

A good start

We started with the typical project charter, milestones, success criteria, and a hierarchical organization chart delineating the project leader (me), team leaders, developers, business analysts and testers. All the ingredients we were supposed to have, right? We eventually discovered that we really weren’t focused on what was going to make that team and project successful:

  • Stakeholder support of the project delivery approach
  • Well understood roles, responsibilities and accountability
  • People with the right mix of skills, experience and motivation
  • A project culture that fostered empowerment and collaboration
  • An agreement to act with grace when faced with challenges and adversity

Lesson learned

On this project, simply defining and directing activities did not translate into success. Regardless of how good individual team members are, success depends on the entire team performing in harmony with common goals. It also demands a working environment that enables and encourages teamwork. As governance practitioners this means we have to worry about other things that matter just as much, including:

  • Trust and authenticity
  • Team performance vs. individual performance
  • Effective communication
  • An explicit agreement to manage with grace

We still have a responsibility for effective command and control, however our approach toward leading teams must adapt to the needs of the project and the people involved. In our role as project leaders we are accountable for creating environments that nourish performance vs. attempting to direct and control it ourselves.

About the Author

David Gerring is a project and program governance practitioner with a 30-year history of success in dynamic environments and matrixed organizations. He works with clients to implement large-scale business process-driven IT solutions that produce results. David is a certified Agile Professional, Scrum Master, and Better Practice Practitioner, skilled with systems integration and custom software development projects.