Wednesday, 06 February 2013 07:48

Everything Goes Through Me - The Project Manager’s words to live by!

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Do you remember the old saying "the bucks stops here"? US President Harry Truman had a sign of it on his desk, making it clear he was accountable for all decisions. Everyone knew if there was a decision to be made, he would make it. The buck stopped with him.

I heard another version of that saying the other day, and I began thinking about Project Managers and Project Management, in general. I thought if project managers would take on the same kind of accountability, leadership, and decision-making attitude that is stated so succinctly on that sign on Mr. Truman’s desk, the industry as a whole would get much better at delivering projects across the board.

Let me explain what happened to me the other day and where I heard another version of that same saying that Mr. Truman made so famous. I was at a local pharmacy waiting for my prescriptions standing alongside a number of other people. The employees were swamped, constantly hopping from customer to customer.

As I am standing there, one of the other people standing beside me was approached by the pharmacist asking if he needed help. This customer, who was already being helped, said he was being taken care of and provided little additional information. The pharmacist, sensing that the customer’s hesitancy, then said to the customer "okay, but everything goes through me," indicating that he may not need to provide her all his information right now, but he would have to down the line because she approved all prescriptions leaving the pharmacy. Now, I want to be clear, the customer was not being nasty, he just simply was being helped by someone else and the pharmacist was also doing her job just trying to be helpful and ensuring that everyone was being take care of. So it was really a good experience for everyone.

When she said that statement to the customer, I really could not stop thinking about it. I tied it back to Truman’s "The Buck Stops Here" mentality and I thought she clearly ran her pharmacy effectively because I could tell she was in charge and clearly making all the decisions. But what I was impressed with the most about that statement was the fact that she said it in the first place. I was impressed with the fact that she took such strong accountability and showed strong leadership skills.

While I continued to wait for my prescriptions, I kept thinking about how powerful of a statement that was and the confidence a person has to say that to a customer, as well as in general. I started to get excited thinking about that line in the context of project management. I thought if project managers possessed that same kind of confidence and showed those same kinds of leadership skills, the project management industry as a whole could be much more efficient in delivering our Programs and Projects. It is easy to understand that the roles of pharmacists and project managers are completely different, and there is often much more accountability and authority in the hands of a pharmacist than in a typical project manager. But that does not mean project managers cannot assume the same leadership qualities and sense of accountability when completing their projects on a daily basis. In fact, if project managers were more willing to take on the “everything goes through me” attitude, I could see the following benefits:

  • Projects would run more efficiently
  • Project team members and customers would know who is making all the decisions
  • Decision-making would be faster and more effective
  • Projects in general would run more smoothly

Over my project management career, I have hired and worked with a number of project managers who have experienced success, and others who have struggled. The ones that were at the top of their game acted exactly as the pharmacist did – they had a take-charge, accountable, strong leadership personality and rarely had any issues in delivering their projects or making their customers happy. The other project managers who did struggled never had that same skillset and would constantly be looking for areas to pass the buck or shed accountability.

Finally, as I think about my next set of project management hires, I am certainly going to look for these qualities in them. And if I can’t find these qualities, I know I can always find them at my local pharmacy.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to add, I am all better, it was just a common cold.

What do you think?

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Bill Dow, PMP

Bill Dow has been in IT for the last 23 years with 21 of those years focusing on Project Management. He has built 2 Project Management Offices from the ground up using the best practices and core principals of PMI and lead countless projects. He has worked both in Canada and the US and has worked in a variety of industries.

Bill is the co-author of the "Project Management Communication Bible", an
801 page reference manual, published in 2008 for Wiley publishing. This book has been listed in the Top 100 for Project Management books.

His second book, "The Tactical Guide for Building a PMO", takes his personal experience in building and implementing PMO's over a 10 year period and puts it into a format that is easy to read and use for any PMO Manager. 

Bill currently works for Microsoft IT as the Project Management Discipline Owner as well an Adjunct Professor at Bellevue College, Bellevue WA, USA.

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