Free Market Project Manager?

Free Market Project Manager?

On the Projects@Work site, there’s a series of articles advocating that project managers adopt and or work within a pure free market environment by writer and editor David Schmaltz.  The idea is that the profession of project management is typically driven by a centralized and controlled efforts that “concern themselves with process definitions, progress measurements and, not surprisingly, motivation because they insist upon people working in ways that they’d really prefer not to engage.  The entrepreneurial ones attend to working the way people quite naturally prefer to work together, so process, progress and motivation mostly take care of themselves”.

The reaction against an overly bureaucratic project management process is nothing new and was the basis for the whole Agile method and it’s philosophy which is outlined in the infamous manifesto.  But what’s unique about the author’s position is that he is advocating something even more:  That project managers completely break free from working for a corporation and work in a manner of  a true independent freelance business person.  As the author states, it wasn’t till he liberated himself from a “dependence upon a regular paycheck, trading that certainty for more work; sometimes less, sometimes more money; and infinitely more satisfaction. My work had become self-reinforcing: a pie-eating contest where, as a serious pie lover, I won ever more opportunities to eat even more pie! The paycheck stopped being any kind of motivator for me”.

These articles were published back in 2006, before the biggest recession since the great depression of the 30’s hit and whether by choice or jobless circumstance (most likely scenario), many people are now pursuing work in a more “project” like fashion.  In other words, people are hoping companies have more projects that could use temporary help for which they have the specific skills and qualification to be hired for.

With the jobless economy continually churning away with companies finding ways to use more efficient automation, outsourcing and hoarding cash, whether we like or not, we will be forced to be more “free market” like in the way we approach work.  The goal then should not be to look at this with trepidation and reluctance, but rather to embrace it and become more entrepreneurial.   If you are a highly skilled project manager, you already have the skills to thrive in this kind of environment.  Getting requirements at short notice, putting together a budget and realistic timelines and banding a team together to deliver a critical project on time, within budget and in scope lies at the core of being able to realize an entrepreneurial vision.

An underlying criticism I get from David Schmaltz’s series of articles, is the anachronism of the “corporate project manager” and one that makes me as a currently working one a bit uncomfortable.  If a project as defined is a unique and temporary endeavor that requires a highly skilled project manager who can deliver the project, then why would such an individual be satisfied working for a single typically bureaucratic organization?  Wouldn’t such an individual be driven to seek the best projects rather than holding a job?  Rather than seek a steady pay check, wouldn’t such an individual work to negotiate the best rate and bonus for delivering the project over and above what the customer expected?

Given the way the world’s economy is headed and the ever changing landscape of work, the new project manager who will thrive will be the one with the highest entrepreneurial, leadership and management skills in one package.  For these kinds of individuals as the article concludes, “it matters, as it always has, who you are and that you show up for each engagement prepared again to risk everything so you can continue the play”.

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