“What is the CEO’s role in a project-based organization?”
Recently a group of CEO’s who run SMB businesses (from $5M to $400M USD in annual revenues) asked me to address that question. I thought through the list of organizations that I’ve helped enhance project capabilities. Five common threads emerged despite the wide variety of industries and sizes.
The first is that company leaders must nourish a project-oriented culture. Processes and techniques are important for successful projects, but people and organizational culture are more important. The leaders of an organization set the culture in a way that no one else can, so the CEO must make this a priority.
In a company that has a good project culture, people act this way:
- Willing to share power across matrix
- Communicate openly
- Comfortable involving all stakeholders
- Value integrity, accountability, and teamwork
- Strive for continuous improvement
Related to culture, the CEO also needs to ensure that the company has the capability to work across functions. This means that it supports cross-functional teams that span silos and it has clear methods for cross-functional escalation and decision-making.
Walk the talk
The second thread is closely related. Leaders must demonstrate a project management mindset in their everyday interactions with employees and customers. This means walking the talk and setting the expectation that others will do the same.
- Being willing to confront reality by making and communicating realistic trade-offs about projects
- Not allowing fire fighting to crowd out prevention
- Allowing time for sufficient planning that produces a feasible balance of cost, schedule, quality, and risk
- Following up, being accountable, and holding others accountable
- Advocating for projects and coaching people on how to improve their project skills
The remaining three focus areas involve systems thinking and participation by leadership. I’ll expand on them in my next post.