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Project Entrepreneurs
By Demian Entrekin

We’ve all read the leadership dreck, the motivational gibberish about acting like an entrepreneur. I have had my fill of upbeat pep talks that tell readers to “behave like they are their own CEO.” These writers would like to urge us to think creatively, take the initiative, and my current favorite euphemism: participate in the ownership society.

My own knee-jerk reaction to this stuff goes something like this: “Clearly, this geek hasn’t thrown his body on the machinery enough times to learn the object lesson: just sit there obediently and say yes and thank you.”

I bring up this rant because of one crucial aspect of project portfolio management: demand generation. Here’s what I’m getting at. The project life cycle represents one of the core tenets of PPM. In a project life cycle, projects follow a gated process from inception to approval to execution to closure and support. You might have different names for these gates, and you might have different gates than these, but that’s the basic flow. Ideas emerge, some turn into projects, some make it into the world. Cooper and Edgett call this the idea-to-launch life cycle.

Now this is where things get interesting. Where does the list of ideas come from? Who comes up with the ideas and how do they become projects? In all likelihood, they come from all over the place. But these “proposed projects” represent the list of candidate actions that are on the table. These candidate ideas will either point the organization toward to the next breakout move, right back to where they already are, or down into brain numbing silliness.

What I wonder about is the notion of the project entrepreneur. Do project managers actively go out and generate these ideas or do they sit around and wait for someone else to develop the idea, justify the investment, and then hand it off to the project manager for “execution.” I suspect that many project managers do more than just manage projects. I suspect that project entrepreneurs often come up with the idea, justify the investment, and then manage the project to completion.

I also suspect that there are plenty of folks who delegate the last part. But what happens in the hand-off? Does the idea get mangled? Is the vision translated? Do project entrepreneurs struggle with the same problem that business entrepreneurs struggle with, which is letting go?

Here’s my main question: what is the relationship between the formation of the idea and the machinery of the project life cycle? This is what I’m wondering about.

Demian is the CTO of Innotas. As founder and CEO, Entrekin oversaw marketing, product development, sales and services for the company. Today, he focuses on strategic product direction. Prior to Innotas, Entrekin co-founded Convoy Corporation and was Chief Architect of its initial products. In that role, Entrekin helped the company lead the middleware market with an annual growth rate of 670 percent and played an instrumental role in Convoy’s subsequent acquisition by New Era Networks in 1999. A recognized thought leader in Project Portfolio Management, Entrekin has published numerous papers on PPM and his blog (PPM Today) explores current issues related to successful PPM implementation. During his 18 year career, Demian has assumed leadership roles as a consultant and as an entrepreneur, delivering commercial and corporate database applications. Demian holds a B.A. in English from UCLA and an M.A. in English from San Francisco State University.

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