A project is usually defined as a temporary endeavor undertaken by an organization, to create a unique product, service, or result. The terms “unique” and “temporary” are usually what separates a project from ongoing operations of an organization. If we examine this further, we may find answers as to how leadership and team psychology can have a significant impact on the success of a given project.
The term project and its definition require that the product, service, or result has not yet been created. This inherently creates uncertainty as to whether or not the product(s) can successfully be created by the project team. Essentially, we are attempting to translate thought into physical reality. I postulate that the translation process is likely one of the root causes for the majority of project failures. I further propose a skilled and highly successful Project Manager is also a charismatic leader. This type of individual can remove uncertainty in the translation process and ensure the project is delivered successfully. If this is true, the next question should be why? This is a very important question and the answer is quite valuable.
Much of the study and literature regarding Project Management is dedicated to the mechanics of how projects are completed. These can include the various Project Management methodologies and frameworks which have been formalized and Project Management standards in existence. But what we must remember is that humans are doing the majority of the work on projects. These individuals are attempting to translate abstract thought into a tangible product, service, or result. This inherently introduces a level of uncertainty into the minds of the Project Manager and project team members. This is where the leadership abilities of the Project Manager becomes critical. The Project Manager must remove uncertainty and doubt from his or her own mind first, and fully believe success is not only attainable, but inevitable; this belief system must also be instilled in the minds of the project team members. For example, if one project team member does not believe a component for a software application can feasibly be built, how hard is that individual going to try? If this individual does not try hard, what will his or her results be? If the results are poor, what will this do to his or her own belief? This has a spiraling effect, which can negatively affect other project team members. Once this occurs, it can be very difficult for the Project Manager to get the project back on track. In this case, the belief affected motivation, the motivation affected the results, and the poor results reinforced the belief. How can we break this negative cycle if it occurs on a project?
For a project to be successful and achieve the stated goals and objectives for an organization, the Project Manager must have a solid working knowledge of the mechanics of Project Management. This usually includes a good understanding of the Project Management Standards in existence, such as PMBOK; it may also include one or more methodologies, such as Agile or Waterfall. For a Project Manager to consistently succeed, he or she must also have an extraordinarily strong psychological makeup with regards to belief, and the communication skills required to positively influence the project team members and remove uncertainty. The Project Manager must become a leader, not just a manager. If the entire project team truly believes that project success is not only attainable, but is inevitable from the start of a project, the project will in all likelihood succeed. The team is building positive momentum from the beginning. In this scenario, the negative cycle never occurs. All project team members believe success is inevitable, this creates an extraordinarily high level of motivation to achieve, this leads to extremely positive results, which in turn reinforces the belief in the inevitability of success. When any of the inevitable challenges on the project occur, the team psychology is so focused on success and finding solutions, and they remove the obstacles that get in their way. This type of team does not focus on problems, only on solutions to problems.
If you’re not convinced yet, a simple scenario may help illustrate this point. Assume you are assigned as the lead Project Manager on an extremely risky and complex project, and are given the ability to hand select your team members. You have one important roster spot to fill and have two candidates to select from. Both candidates have a similar background in terms of knowledge and skills which fit the requirements for the vacancy. The only difference is one candidate is extremely positive and enthusiastic about the project and its outcomes, while the other is quite skeptical about the ability to achieve the stated goals. Which candidate would you choose to fill that role? The answer is quite intuitive and obvious.
Fully understanding why this answer is obvious is very important and holds the key to success.