E’ il PM che fa la differenza.

MotivationE per PM intendo ovviamente il Project Manager, non il pubblico ministero … Riprendo e riporto integralmente questo bel post di Ethan Mollick, professore assistente di Management alla Wharton School dell’Università della Pennsylvania, sul blog di Harvard Business Review (grazie ancora una volta a Matteo Kalchschmidt per la segnalazione). L’articolo fa finalmente giustizia (e farà felici molti PM …) sul ruolo e sull’importanza dei project manager all’interno delle organizzazioni e mette in luce quanto essi siano spesso sottovalutati, in confronto ad altre figure apparentemente più strategiche per il successo di un’impresa: creativi, manager, responsabili delle strategie, amministratori.

Project scapegoatL’analisi prende in esame le società che realizzano giochi elettronici, ma le conclusioni sono a mio avviso facilmente estendibili anche ad altri settori. L’osservazione generale che ne deriva è che, al di là delle organizzazioni, delle procedure, degli incentivi, la differenza la fanno le persone. E in particolare i project manager, cioè quelle figure intermedie tra il top management e la fascia ‘creativa’ di ricercatori, progettisti e designer, in grado di ‘tirare’ i processi verso il successo in modo efficiente ed efficace. Alcuni risultati dell’analisi e considerazioni. Sono i PM ad essere i maggiori responsabili della variazione nei profitti aziendali. Il loro impatto sul risultato può essere rilevante perché spesso sono chiamati a fronteggiare situazioni di progetto critiche, messi in difficoltà a causa delle risorse insufficienti assegnate loro dai manager e della scarsa motivazione del personale operativo che spesso non dipende direttamente da loro (pensiamo ad esempio alle aziende organizzate ‘a matrice‘).  

how-many-hands-do-you-need-to-be-a-good-projec-managerAnche se il suo ruolo è rispettato all’interno delle aziende, la posizione di PM è spesso vista come un passaggio intermedio verso il management ‘vero’ , mentre invece le società dovrebbero riconoscerne e valorizzarne la professione per quello che è. Anche se inseriti in processi aziendali ben codificati, i PM non sono facilmente intercambiabili, in quanto la loro professionalità è veramente individuale e legata alle attitudini della singola persona. Le competenze multidisciplinari tecniche e gestionali che sono chiamati a mettere in campo sono così importanti e strategiche per il risultato di un progetto da venire certificate secondo importanti standard internazionali (IPMA, PMI, Prince2). Infine, se le competenze di un PM sono importanti in progetti di ‘normale’ difficoltà, immaginiamo quanto diventano fondamentali per il risultato finale (sia in positivo che, ahimè, in negativo) in progetti di alta complessità oppure che diventano improvvisamente critici per fattori imprevedibili.

Di seguito l’articolo originale di HBR.

Middle Managers Have an Outsized Impact on Innovation

Just the mention of “middle managers” is enough to make people’s eyes roll back. But these supposedly boring cogs of the corporation, these objects of derision in Dilbertland, can have a profound impact on innovation and performance. Companies need to pay attention to them and reward their special talent at making the best of the restrictions and limitations of their positions — of making lemonade from lemons.

For decades, researchers and businesspeople have assumed that in the thick of large organizations, what matters is process. Are the right resources available? Are incentives effective? If the organization isn’t being innovative, the solution must be structural.

My study of computer-game makers shows something different — that individuals matter a lot. And of all the individuals, the choice of who is middle manager on vital projects goes the furthest in explaining why some firms do better than others.

In a gaming-company context, middle managers have the job title of “producer” (primarily because it is thought to be a cooler-sounding title than “project manager”), and they supervise designers, who are the sources of creative ideas. After controlling for many factors, such as the genre of the game and the size of the project, I found that individual producers account for 22.3% of the variation in company revenue. Designers, by contrast, account for just 7.4% of the variation — a relatively marginal impact. For comparison, everything else that’s part of the firm, whether it’s senior managers or strategy or marketing, accounts for just 21.3% of the variation in firm performance. (The rest is due to exogenous factors such as changes in technology and the marketplace, as well as some of the natural variation in any creative products). What’s more, the talent of individuals was portable — when they left one company for another, they took their ability with them.

Producers’ impact extends beyond firm performance. When I looked at which group was responsible, and to what degree, for variations in product quality, as measured by critics’ responses to games, the numbers were similar.

Why do project managers have such a large impact? The answer has to do with the difficult, but often critically important, situation they find themselves in. Higher-ups don’t give them the resources they want, and subordinates are annoyed by the directives the project managers are mandated to promulgate. Squeezed from above and below, they have to make do. Some people are very bad at this and destroy value. But some are really good at it. The best have a knack for turning restrictions on resources into creative solutions. It’s almost magical.

For example, think of the middle manager (yourself, perhaps?) whose team, for budget reasons, was never restored to full strength after a couple of departures, and who responded by reassigning responsibilities in a creative way that made everything work better — to the point where everyone wondered why those additional people were ever needed.

Middle managers’ position is also critical in that they function as the facilitators, nurturers, and selectors of creativity. They’re the ones to get the creatives excited about a project, keep them on time and on budget, solve interpersonal problems, and select from the creatives’ ideas. They speak up when the creatives’ ideas are unrealistic or too difficult to implement. Good middle managers can also help create “collective creativity,” making sure that the sum of innovative work is greater than its individual parts by establishing healthy team dynamics.

When you study companies, you see that the good project managers are widely known. There’s respect for their abilities — sometimes it’s grudging, but it’s real respect. Everyone has a sense of how important they are.

But that doesn’t stop companies from ignoring them. The middle-management position is usually seen as a way station to “real” management. Companies make little effort to retain the most effective middle managers. A lot of project managers buy into this view, accepting that they should do everything possible to shed the “middle” label and move on.

But the reality is that good middle managers are a valuable resource. If you take a really effective middle manager out of his or her role, it’s unlikely that someone else will be able to do the job as well. And a number of managers like the middle. They know they’re effective there. Companies would do better to support the best of these managers and encourage them to stay in the middle, if that’s their chosen profession (and it is a profession).

One way to encourage them to stay is to frame the job description so that it doesn’t sound like a stepping-stone to something else. Another is to create a career path that doesn’t necessarily involve promotion out of project management. Have them aim for the role of “chief project manager.” Assign them to teams where they can deploy their special talents in interesting, challenging ways. Does one of them excel at fast turnarounds? Another at getting creative people to stop fighting? Another at resurrecting supposedly doomed projects? Make sure these skills get used.

Most of all, don’t think of middle managers as interchangeable parts. They are individuals, and many have significant talents.

Corporate leaders spend a lot of time worrying about the impact of their strategy. But they overlook the impact of the people who make the thousands of small, critical choices that truly make the difference between success and failure.

[Ethan Mollick © HBR Blog Network, 12.09.2013]

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