Thursday, March 21, 2013

Leadership in Dynamic Project Environments

What leadership style might help your project cope with rapid change?

Here is some advice from a military campaign leader operating in an environment where lives are on the line during unpredictable change...

Our leadership style is to avoid micro-management in favour of development of subordinates. Encouraging people to think for themselves but providing direction... It's better to have that approach in place than to be unresponsive to changing situations.
Another participant described how a lower-level commander might be given a mission to secure a hill, but also provided the “intent” of the mission which might be to protect the left hand side of a troop advance. The commander on the ground will adjust their mission according to circumstances to best achieve the intent. To achieve this they use “directive control” where orders have built-in flexibility.So leadership by communicating 'intent' (the desired outcome) to trusted experts allows those experts to make many of the decisions for you, on the ground. This is much faster and more responsive to a changing environment. It also takes advantage of their superior technical expertise and situational awareness. Occasionally, your team may make the wrong decision and fail, but this approach is regarded as being better at quickly adapting to a changing environment and more often result in mission success. Relying on experts was a common theme in my study. Here are the thoughts of pharmaceutical product development manager...
The level of technical complexity in each area is so great that no one individual can really be across all the detail, so the task of managers is perhaps more one of integration and coordination. It is a case of having someone who can see the forest for the trees as it were.
So the leader's lack of technical expertise is made up for with vision, often accumulated with years of experience in an industry. Consider the film director analogy where the director has the vision and inspires a team of trusted experts towards a goal in a collaborative way using delegated control. This concept is compatible with Shenhar and Wideman’s (2000) idea of an ‘explorer’ style of leadership – suited to the concept and development phases of what they call high-tech or super-high-tech projects. These projects involve new or emerging technologies with unknowns at commencement. The qualities of the explorer style include: vision orientated, solution seeker, inspiring, determined, focus long range, evokes dedication (Shenhar & Wideman, 2000). Explorers empower the team, and delegate decisions, collaborating if required.

In fact according to Deaux, Dane and Wrightman (1993, p. 347)...

Highly authoritarian people are often uncomfortable in ambiguous situations
Visionary leaders therefore build and rely on teams of experts they trust....

Although I have a long history in this industry, some paradigms have changed significantly. This means that I must rely on the skills and knowledge of team members rather than take an expert role.
More on leadership another time.

Simon Collyer

Collyer, S., Warren, C., Hemsley, B., & Stevens, C. (2010). Aim Fire Aim - Project Planning Styles in Dynamic Environments, Project Management Journal, 41(4), 108-121.
Collyer, S., & Warren, C. M. J. (2009). Project Management Approaches for Dynamic Environments, International Journal of Project Management, 27(4), 355-364
Deaux, K., Dane, F. C., & Wrightsman, L. S. (Eds.). (1993). Social Psychology in the '90s (6th ed.): Pacific Grove, Calif. : Brooks/Cole Pub. Co., .
Shenhar, A. J., & Wideman, R. M. (2000). Optimizing Project Success by Matching PM Style with Project Type, from