Managing projects without formal authority

Project managers often work in matrix organizations where they don’t have formal authority over their project team members. They have to discuss and negotiate their resources with the functional managers or other stakeholders who are involved with the project. In addition, project managers typically don’t authorize their own project budgets and other project constraints, their only job is to get the project done within the defined constraints. Although it might seem that it is extremely difficult to successfully complete a project under such circumstances, Tom Kendrick’s book Results without Authority enlightens us that there is another side to this story. Project managers actually do have many levers and methods at their disposal that they can utilize to succeed in their projects even without formal authority.

The book focuses on the three most important aspects of project management in matrix organizations: communication, business processes and measuring results.

As with any other project, not just limited to matrix organizations, project managers must be strong in communication. It is most efficient to use soft skills in leadership and motivation of the project team members in the form of positive reinforcement without falling back on formal authority. Team members perform better and are more motivated when they truly believe in project goals as explained by the project manager rather than just having to do the work because their supervisor instructed them to do so.

Project managers can reward team members for a job well done even without an available budget because rewards don’t always have to be in the form of payment or material goods. People can be encouraged, motivated and rewarded by just oral recognition from the project manager, by being nominated for competitions such as “employee of the month” or by meeting informally for a joint lunch or sports activity after work. Good project managers can usually guess what motivates each team member and can offer them something in that respect.

Project managers often like to work in environments where business processes are well defined and enforced, especially if the processes include projects. It is helpful if there are internal methodologies and procedures that include monitoring projects. In such environments there is a higher chance of completing projects successfully because it is known for example how to assign resources to projects, how to perform change management, who cares about the status of the project and this all helps the project managers in their day to day work. By strictly following rules and regulations, a project manager does really have some formal authority within the process.

Each project must be monitored and controlled, preferably in the form of measurements that indicate success. When such project metrics are clearly defined, it is transparent how the project is progressing and much easier for the project manager to raise issues when the project is heading towards trouble. In addition to metrics related to the internal progress of the project that are explained in detail in the book, I would have liked to see more metrics related to the external project aspects, such as with the end users and external stakeholders. We all know that a project is really successful only when the user is happy with it and actually uses the results and it would therefore make sense to add metrics that measure customer satisfaction and similar.

The book is a real eye opener in the realm of possibilities that project managers can utilize to successfully complete their projects, especially in environments where they have no formal authority. But all of these would be useful in any other project environment as well, therefore the book can be used as a general reference for all project managers to help them in managing their projects.

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