Replace Your Project Managers with Project Leaders

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Warren Bennis: Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.

Peter Drucker: Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

Project Leaders

Problem – We Need Project Leaders Not Project Managers

Some projects have a disconnect between the intended strategic value and the developed business requirements. This creates a “value gap” between the target value and the actual functionality delivered. In such cases, the completed project can be a tactical success but a strategic disappointment. Delivering the wrong value creates “value debt” and contributes to the high failure rate of enterprise projects. A “project value gap” at the beginning of a project causes “project value debt” at the end. Consequently, many projects fail at the beginning not at the end. At the end, a project can successfully deliver the wrong thing.

Project Leaders

Ideal State

The ideal state is a decision making environment that prioritizes doing the right thing over doing the thing right.

Root Cause for Lack of Project Leaders

Project management emphasizes management activities rather than leadership. Project LeadersFor example the triple constraint measures scope, cost and schedule with no mention of value. Consequently, project managers are trained to track and report rather than innovate and assure value. We adopt processes, frameworks and methodologies that guide project execution also without assuring project value. The root cause of value mis-alignment is that project management procedures are designed to deliver the thing right and far too often the project team does not validate that they are delivering the right thing.


Project LeadersProject leaders emphasize doing the right thing over doing the thing right. They focus on the project’s vision, strategy and value. Value replaces scope in the triple constraint. Moreover, project leaders ensure that value assurance is the key guide for project decision making from project initiation to project completion.

Solution for Lack of Project Leaders

Project Leaders

Warren Bennis:
There are two ways of being creative. One can sing and dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish.

It is possible to mitigate the potential gap between the intended business value and project requirements by emphasizing project leadership rather project management. Project Leaders ensure value is agreed at the start of a project, assured during execution, delivered at the end and optimized thereafter – otherwise they simply pull the “andon cord“.

Project leaders excel at influencing others to achieve a common goal. However, simple communication isn’t enough. Project leaders must connect in a way that elicits trust from key stakeholders. They must be passionate about their vision otherwise others will not be motivated to overcome obstacles to follow their lead. According to Warren Bennis, a leader must articulate a vision, define a strategy to achieve the vision, then motivate the team to implement the strategy. Project leaders must also create an environment for the project team to develop and execute an actionable tactical plan.

Project Leaders

Project leaders must master “influential communications” with high level executives as well as with detailed project team members. This enables them to acquire the resources they need to construct and empower a project team that can win. Project leaders must also manage team conflict and control project communications. In addition, project leaders must provide innovation, creative problem solving, effective decision making and continuous improvement. However, the combination of time pressure and imperfect information often forces project leaders to take calculated risks to accelerate project success. As a project leader, you must therefore be comfortable making important decisions under uncertainty.

On an agile project, the scrum master assumes management responsibilities for delivery. The scrum master administers the conversion of user stories into developed, validated and shipped functionality. Depending on circumstances, the scrum master can also assume the role of project leader; alternatively, the traditional project manager can morph into a project leader. Either way, the project leader must protect the scrum team from external influences so the scrum team can focus on efficient delivery. More importantly, the project leader must also take responsibility for value assurance. This includes clarifying the intended value at the start of the project, delivering the expected value at the end, and ensuring throughout the project that strategic value is the key consideration for determining project priorities and making key decision. Project leaders are also responsible for resolving project escalations and coordinating the resources their team requires for smooth operation. We must empower our project managers to evolve into effective project leaders.

Your Feedback

Enter your comments below so we can update this post and provide better solutions for the community. Also, if you have created any project management tools or templates that you would like to contribute for communal use then please send each one, with a brief description, to

Project Leaders

Business Opportunity

The requirement to define the intended value at the start of a project then assure its realization during a project and also optimize the intended value after deployment creates an opportunity for a new value assurance system. Let us know if you would like to collaborate as a part of our community to transform this opportunity into an easy-to-use solution that will dramatically improve project failure rates.

Alternatively, if your company is willing to contribute some of your time to help specify a solution to meet their specific needs then they will receive free licensing for an agreed period of time. Each project requires a project manager, an architect, a business analyst, a developer and a QA lead.

Simple Life Lesson

Project Leaders

Some of us are natural leaders. Some of us prefer the role of follower. However, different circumstances dictate different needs. For example. you may prefer the role of follower at work but may enjoy being a leader for your charity. The point is, in order to navigate our daily lives, we need to exhibit a combination of leadership skills and management skills. The key for us all is to determine when to do the thing right and when to step up as a leader and do the right thing.

Project Leaders

Innovation Incubator

  • Are you tired of using the same old Project Management tools and techniques and getting the same unacceptable results?
  • Have you developed a project management tool or technique that has improved the performance of your projects?
  • Is your organization interested in trialing innovative project management tools and techniques?

Contact us to list a project management tool that you have developed or to trial of any of the following innovations provided by the community:

6SigmaPM – A proactive project health check. It measures your project’s vital signs then recommends corrective actions to prevent a negative trend becoming an actual problem. The benefit is predictable project performance.

JoinMyOrder – A group purchasing system. You submit a purchase order, other like minded customers also make a commitment to buy, then suppliers compete for the high volume purchase order in a reverse auction. You receive the price, terms and conditions normally available only to much larger organizations.

Crowd Bootstrap – A startup ecosystem in an App that offers innovation as a service. You sponsor a startup accelerator and determine its industry focus. The accelerator invests business services from independent contractors into selected startups to help accelerate their progress. You get access to the startup’s team, knowledge, products and services. You receive the benefits of an accelerator without the usual costs. It is “innovation-as-a-service” in an App.


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