The Business-Savvy Project Manager's Leadership Role and Key Project Responsibilities

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An overview of the role of "business-savvy" project managers' mindset and responsibilities—PMs who lead their teams relentlessly toward the business results a project is meant to achieve. Helps project managers see a critical type of value they can bring to projects and provides guidance for developing new skills and mindsets for new career options.

What this is

An overview of the role of a "business-savvy" project manager's mindset and responsibilities. The first section sets the stage by laying out a view of this kind of project manager. The other three sections provide an overview of the business-savvy PM's key activities and responsibilities during the project: testing the project business case, kicking off and planning a business-aligned project with the team, and executing the details of the project with the business goals continually at the forefront for everyone.

Why it's useful

The best project managers do much more than coordinating, planning, and tracking tasks. They lead their teams relentlessly toward the business results a project is meant to achieve. To do so effectively, they must clearly understand what the organization is trying to achieve overall. Then they must proactively bring together team members and stakeholders to decide on priorities in the face of constraints, facilitate and drive to tough trade-off decisions, and keep everyone's work focused on that which serves the most important business goals.

This business-focused aspect of the PM's role requires influence, communication, and conflict management skills. And it requires that the PM maintain a business-minded focus all the way through the project. This presentation introduces the subject in order to help project managers see a critical type of value they can bring to projects, especially if they have started their careers in organizations that treat the role as more about coordination only. It can also be used as guidance for developing new skills and mindset that can lead to new career options—because executives tend to value and trust business-savvy project managers the most.

How to use it

Review the presentation for an understanding of the business-focused mindset on projects, including the overall PM role, and specific activities through the life of the project.

  • First section: What is meant by a business-savvy mindset, and the added responsibilities of a project manager who is truly taking responsibility for the business results of a project. Consider how these aspects might add to the work you, or project managers who work for you.
  • Second section: Overview of business-focused project selection based on organizational goals and specific selection criteria, and the role of a newly appointed PM in carrying the business mandate forward through the project business case, front-end feasibility assessments, and reviews. Make sure to consider the responsibility for believing in the project's reason for being.
  • Third section: The PM's business-minded role as a project is being kicked off with the team and scope decisions being made—how the team is going to meet all those project objectives. This is where conflicts among time, costs, and scope usually exist and where the business-savvy PM plays a critical role—helping the team define and plan the right project to meet the most important business objectives.
  • Fourth section: Key focus areas for helping the team stay business-minded throughout the time when everyone is down in the details of the project and most apt to lose sight of the original high-level goals, all the way through to a responsible, truly complete release to customers.

If you feel that your organization doesn't encourage this kind of more-than-a-coordinator type of project manager, don't despair. The key is to think about where you can add business-minded value on your project, and then just do it. As mentioned in first section of the presentation, the idea is not for the project manager to take over the business function from product managers, business analysts, or anyone else. But you can add your own valuable business-oriented perspective at each step, and end up having way more influence and credibility to boot.

To get going, think about where past projects have experienced serious issues in terms of meeting critical goals. For example, have there been places where the project business case was not thought out well enough? Is there a tendency to rush new projects into being? Or rush them out the door at the end without making absolutely sure the critical goals have been meet? Or the tendency to keep adding "cool but not critical" features during the project and causing delays and cost overruns at the expense of meeting the goals that really mattered? Or regular fights up front among different departments about what to implement in the first place? Use these past issues to help you find initial high-leverage places to add additional business-focused activities to the project work and your own critical thinking about your project.

Consider also how the business-savvy mindset can be spread through your team. Use techniques such as project kickoff meetings that focus on the business goals with everyone present; design or deliverables reviews that start by re-reading the charter and using it as a basis for reviewing design completeness; and during planning, keeping visible how team members' pieces of the work map to the overall business goals of the project.

Finally, for personal development planning, don't hesitate to talk to project sponsor executives in your organization, and people who participate as the business voice on your projects. Get their view on where you should understand more about their world, for instance to make up front project definition and later project trade-offs easier for everyone. Not only can these conversations help your current project; they can point you to areas of high leverage for your own career.

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