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Project Managers vs. Executives – Part 1 – or What do the Dumb-dumbs in the executive offices know? (#1 in the series Project Managers vs. Executives)
By Diana Lindstrom

As project managers, we know that the processes we use are valuable. We want to help our companies to succeed. It makes sense to us that using project management throughout the company will lead to success.

No brainer, right?

Wrong.

Executives see projects as operational processes, and not part of a successful business strategy. Which means that they see project managers as staff people, not executive managers.

How do we do that?

As project managers, we need to learn more about the business of our companies. Do you know your company’s business plan? Marketing plan? Sales plan?

In this three-part post, I’m presenting some ideas on how to get started talking with executives about the value of project management practices. We’ll talk about the who, what, and when.

Part 1: Who

I mentioned that executives view projects as operations, not strategy. That’s the key to unlocking the mystery of executive support.

As project managers, we understand the strategy that we use to manage a project. We also know to break that strategy down into tactics.

Just like a project plan maps out the project strategy, the business plan maps out the company’s strategy.

In a project the communications plan and risk management plan are tactical support for the project plan. It makes sense that the marketing plan and sales plan are tactical support for the business plan in a company.

Knowing the strategy, as well as the tactical details, allows us to see our goal before we get there. It’s the same in running a business.

Executives deal with the strategy of the business, and their direct reports deal with the tactical details.

So when you want to talk with an executive, remember that strategic solutions are their only interest.

So how do we find out about the company’s strategy?

Do the research and read the plans. It may take some relationship building with people in marketing and sales in order to get access to the plans. There are many advantages to having these relationships – but that’s another subject.

Find out more information about the various executives in your company. Does any one of them have a project management background? Do they come out of an industry that views project management as a core competency?

Choose the person who you find you have the most in common with. When building any type of relationship, people are more comfortable when they can bond at some level.

One of the criteria for choosing an executive is how likely that person is to be open about his/her concerns.

How do you find that out? By talking with other people in your company. Figure out who knows the most about the people at your company. You may need to start talking with people outside of your own department.

One of the things that I learned in the Navy is to always treat the commanding officer’s secretary, the finance person, and at least one corpsman with great respect. These people can make, or break, your career.

The CO’s secretary can help out in many, many ways – from information to head’s up notification to scheduling time with the CO.

The finance person keeps your payroll records and authorizes your pay check. That’s someone to keep happy.

The corpsman maintains your medical records – including your shot records – and can make your transfers a living hell. Don’t make that person angry.

It’s the same in companies. If your executives have assistants – whether it’s an admin assistant, executive assistant, or personal assistant – those are the people who know the most. Build a relationship with them.

When you’ve learned about the company’s strategy and chosen an executive to talk with, then you’re ready to begin the sales process. That’s the What…

Diana Lindstrom, PMP, CTACC, has been a project manager for over 22 years. Starting out as an electrical engineer, she has broad experience including executive management, enterprise-level procurement, paralegal, writing, and coaching. As an executive coach, Diana helps new executives (and project managers) make that mind shift from tactical to strategic thinking. She can be reached through http://shipwreckedproject.com.

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