Friday, 21 February 2014

As a Military General, where should you spend your time?

As a Project Manager is there something to be learnt from military leadership in terms of where to spend your time and when to stand back from the action?

Some Military Leaders stand back from the battle

I was watching the film "Sink the Bismarck" recently which was unusual in that it focused a lot on the analysis and decisions being made back in London rather than at sea. This is an analogy for the Project Manager who stands back and analyses based on reports from the team, looking where the issues are and modifying strategy appropriately. It is sometimes called the 30,000 feet view.


Planners create a gigantic war map for Talisman Sabre

Some Military Leaders fight with the troops

Then there are the military leaders who work hand in hand with the troops. One example of such a leader which springs to mind is H Jones who, as commanding officer of 2 Para, died leading his troops in the battle of Goose Green in the Falklands War. This is an analogy for the Project Manager who gets involved in the detailed work of the team and as such knows far more about the low level details of situation on the ground and thus can be more reactive in short timescales. 

Which analogy is best for a Project Manager?

So which analogy is best for where a Project Manager should spend his time? 
In short, I think both have a place and time. Let me explain.

I would say that you should always spend a proportion of your time each week studying the "big picture", working out how to tweak your strategy based on the feedback on progress and issues that have occurred. In a previous post I have suggested that a good time to do this is at the same time as producing a weekly status report.

However, there are times, especially when issues have occurred, where you need to be there on the battlefield gathering information in real time and working with the team to devise the resolution path. To aid this, I believe it is useful for the Project Manager to have some background in the technical skills which the team are utilising. In my field of IT Projects, I have come from a software development background and have sufficient background knowledge to aid communication with technical team mates. 

Conclusion

So there are good parallels between being a Project Manager and a General fighting a battle. Just pick your time on when to be in the trenches with the troops and when to retire back to the war-room!

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