Are project managers a necessary evil?
I recently come across this very interesting article in Forbes magazine where Google, like many technology start-up companies in Silicon Valley, felt that managers were outright evil and not even a necessary one! Incredibly, what they found was that not only were managers not evil, but a very importantly component of success in their organization:
“Most folks in engineering think about management as a necessary evil,” Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations told me this week by phone. As the company scaled management titles cropped up out of necessity. Determined to appease disgruntled engineers, Bock tasked a subset of People Ops (a three-man team called the People Innovation Lab) to design data-driven research that would settle once and for all whether management was a force for good or evil within the company’s “do no evil” walls.
The hypothesis, he admits, was biased from the get-go. “We set out to prove that managers don’t matter,” of what was to date the largest in-depth study that his people operations group had undertaken.
And they couldn’t have been more wrong. Google research found that not only are managers a critical component to corporate structure—but that good managers increased job satisfaction, retention and employment within their groups and the organization as a whole. That realization opened an entirely new pathway for research at Google: how do you identify what makes someone a “good” manager, and more importantly, how do you make someone “better?”
As is to be expected by such an analytical bunch, they identified eight attributes of great managers and went about rigorously sending out questionnaires to management’s subordinates and collecting data that was analyzed from top to bottom.
For me as a project management professional, this sentiment strikes a chord as I’ve heard the same argument about the evil whether necessary or not about project managers. But like the article states, a bad or perhaps even mediocre manager either gets in the way or adds no value, but the one who is good to great are the ones who optimize the process and get the teams to perform well. So to evaluate this you probably have to utilize a 360 feedback loop as the article states, “Everyone thinks they’re a good manager, a great leader–everyone thinks they’re good at interviewing. But the reality is that by definition we’re all simply average. Some of us are good, some of us are bad, but the truth is we don’t know.”
But this is where I argue that project management is more superior than traditional middle management because as a project manager, you are measured by the success of delivering a product, service or result within a tightly specified metric of scope, time and cost and with teams that do not even report directly to you to boot. I have long argued that this is the model of the future and the only way to “manage” all those things that companies have to produce and deliver in these challenging, fast-paced and technology driven times we live in. These skill will be more important as companies downsize, re-organize, shutdown and reinvent themselves with ever alarming frequency and whether work full time in a company or are an independent worker you’ll be the one who thrives.
Ironically, as this article from the Wall Street Journal attest to, it doesn’t seem middle manager are going away anytime soon either:
Midlevel managers—whose ranks numbered 10.8 million in the U.S. last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—are often dismissed as paper-pushers, perpetuators of groupthink and symbols of organizational bloat. But management experts say they’re an essential layer of a company, turning top-line strategy into action, day by unglamorous day. Yet managing without much autonomy is stressful, and opportunities for getting ahead are limited.
What’s different now is that companies are leaner than ever, placing greater demands on staff even as they invest in technology that threatens to eliminate many jobs. Companies are asking managers to do more, challenging them to create and innovate while still developing talent and meeting deadlines.
Some data from their report indicates that managers, especially the more experienced ones fared well during the great downturn of the last five years:
So no matter how much we are lambasted and told that we are mere overhead to getting things done, it actually seems managers, especially good ones with lots of experience well be in demand for quite some time. And from my perspective, it will be project managers who can deliver with consistency with high quality and within deadlines are the ones who will thrive!