Robert Davis

OPINION

Is management to blame when projects fail?

The answer is usually yes, here's what you can do about it

Often when I read about numerous performance problems in government and industry, I see a common root cause – a failure of management.

Management is an interesting word; it can refer to a person, people or a function even though it is spelled the same for each of these cases. My use of the word management refers to the function of management throughout an enterprise, and I mean management not leadership per se.

Management and leadership have been written about extensively. There are countless articles, books, white papers and dissertations that treat these subjects separately or closely related even as one. My words are not to debate either perspective but present what managers must consider within their realms of influence.

Some employees seek management positions while others seem to unexpectantly find themselves in this role. Are they truly prepared for this important position? Do they understand how their words and actions affect people around them? Do they know the basic functions of management? Two noted management scholars, Luther Gulick and Henry Mintzberg, are worth considering.

Luther Gulick, a social scientist, wrote Notes on Theory of Organizations. He identified seven activities or ‘principles of management:

  • Planning – a sense of where we are and where we are headed
  • Organizing – having a vision or plan, and the necessary resources
  • Staffing – the right employees in the right job
  • Directing – managing employees
  • Co-coordinating – executing while considering work-related elements
  • Reporting – periodic, objective assessments of results
  • Budgeting – planning and tracking the financial means to produce results

These basic principles dominated management education for decades with the manager being primarily viewed as a generalist.

Recent management literature mentions additional attributes of professional managers: (1) decision maker… the manager must be willing to make decisions, (2) leader… thousands of books and articles exist on the subject of leadership, yet it remains an elusive quality, (3) an organization resource… a facilitator who can remove obstacles to getting the job done and provide subject matter expertise, and 4) manager of knowledge… responsible for the dispersion of explicit and implicit knowledge throughout the organization.

Removing obstacles that deter employees from being able to perform their work is a direct way for a manager to increase productivity. Managers should leverage their skills and knowledge to help employees leverage their own skills and knowledge. 

Henry Mintzberg, a leading management thinker, offers important observations concerning management: Management is not a science. Science is about the development of systematic knowledge through research. Instead, management is a practice, which includes science meaning analysis, art meaning vision, and craft meaning intuition and experience.

He also writes that management is not a profession. Science, engineering and law are professions because they teach a set body of codified knowledge. Even though few employees would trust an engineer without formal education to design a bridge, we have millions of people working as managers who have never spent a day in a management classroom. Being a competent manager requires having significant abilities.

Management must have the ability to juggle four elements at work, which are constantly interacting, while they are managing people and working:

  • The work itself
  • Employees
  • Management
  • The larger environment

Obviously most managers focus on the work itself because the lack of results from work becomes quickly evident. Some managers consciously spend time supporting and nurturing employees to the extent that it engenders performance i.e. ensures that the work is being performed. When do managers deliberately take time to consider their own role and responsibilities, as managers, separately from the work and employees? When do they ensure that they are applying all available management techniques to facilitate greater success?

When does management consider the larger environment, inside and outside their organization, and how their decisions and actions are being affected by factors such as culture, budgets (at all levels), politics, ecology, risk, organization-wide challenges, competition, technology, and more?

 All work is performed in a broader context. While management does not have the time to consider and weigh all factors it cannot afford to plow ahead without mindfulness. How are you informing your management style in these turbulent times?


 

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