Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Should project managers be optimists?

[This question arose from an office discussion about targets and programming]

The short answer: probably.

The longer answer: maybe not, not completely. But a project manager needs to be optimistic about the project, and to believe that it is worth doing and is achievable. If they don't believe that, they will be unable to convince anyone else; and they will find it hard to come up with the tenacity, flexibility and single-minded purpose that is needed to drag a reluctant project to a successful conclusion.

And they need to have faith in the ability of their team to learn and grow. There's no point planning a project team by assigning the roles to experienced specialists, only to discover that when it's time to start none are available. What can you do? Give up, or gather the best team you can and fill the gaps by improvisation.

They also need to be risk-takers. All worthwhile projects involve substantial risk, vene if it's just the risk to reputation that would follow from failure and the opportunity cost of other things that could have been done instead. The exclusion of all risk would make projects impossible to start. Good risk-takers are hard to find, of course; you don't want to mistake blind insensibility to danger for courage.

At a practical level, pessimism can be useful too: if there are important deadlines, best to look at progress with a negative attitude. But pessimism is often accompanied by despair: project managers have to believe that their actions can make a difference, that the world is perfectable, that salvation can be grasped.

No comments: