Project Management is like being a train conductor

Authority and the Speeding Train of Project Leadership

Much of project management is generating and maintaining project momentum. Many things can decrease momentum, and in many circumstances it doesn’t take much to actually derail the train and kill the project all together. When I am brought on as a project lead, I am focused on ONE THING. Keeping the train moving towards the successful completion of the project.

All projects have different team members, who usually have slightly different motivations. And the project lead’s role is to identify the critical path to success/launch/publication and keep a single pointed focus on that objective. Let me give you an example.

At the moment I am working with a team to get a new and improved shopping cart launched for an ecommerce business. I have several teams involved. 1. the ecommerce manager; 2. the worker bees; 3. the owner; 4. project manager and contributor. Here’s how I define my objectives.

  1. Most efficient (ie. quickest) path to launch the new store
  2. Limiting the additional requests from the owners
  3. Streamlining the tasks of the worker bees to ensure their efficiency
  4. Meta-managment of the ecommerce manager to make sure their objectives are in alignment with the current goal of the moving train
  5. Understanding the show-stopping issues that will derail the train
  6. Pushing harder on the manager and the staff to complete the project sooner, speeding up the train
  7. Establishing the calendar and launch date for all team members
  8. Dealing with any arising issues and problems to keep train at top speed
  9. Keep a smile on everyone’s face

It’s not an easy task. There is some fancy footwork involved in hearing each team members requests and either adding them to the project plan, OR putting them in the “request for next release” pile.

Anything and everything that is in the way of the train’s “launch” objective, must be managed and moved out of the way.

Ultimately, I am the train conductor, and my role is to fuel the momentum of the train and eliminate or minimize anything that might slow us down. And in this role I have to confront and contain even the people who hired me to manage the project. But that’s what they are asking me to do. I am even holding them accountable to the objectives stated earlier.

Our train has slowed a bit in the last week, as we navigate some unexpected “detail work.” And today, in my staff meeting, it is my objective to understand if there are any efficiencies we can gain, or any of the “details” that can be postponed until after V2 of the store is launched. At the moment I have a lot of requests and objectives, but the goal is LAUNCH. Everything and everyone, even myself, have to serve that goal. And stand aside as we get the train back up to speed.

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth

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