Not just leadership, but also judgement

Project Eye realises the importance of leadership in IT projects, but gets uneasy when the focus moves to this topic. It seems to be an opportunity for talking tosh.

For example, there was a fascinating BBC programme ‘Sir Alex Ferguson: Secrets of Success’ (11 October - you may be able to catch it on iPlayer). The words used to promote the programme included: ‘(he) wasn’t just the leader of a football team. He was the mastermind of one of Britain’s biggest brands’. It was as if football had little intrinsic interest as a gripping human endeavour, and what mattered was that business could extract revenue from it.

But what has this got to do with project management? Well business gurus argue that the elements of leadership are universal. Other members of the alpha males club, the three times general election-winning former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and ex-British Commander-in-Chief Mike Jackson, were featured in the programme extolling Fergie’s leadership qualities. You get the idea that they were supposed to all be interchangeable: Fergie could have stepped in and done Blair’s job as Prime Minister, or Jackson could have done Fergie’s. It was all a question of having superior leadership qualities.

A failing of Project Eye is once it gets into a negative mind set, it is difficult to get out of it. Things which are probably admirable start to seem a bit sinister. Fergie’s Man U was like a family - he knew everybody and what they were up to. But was this a family in the sense East Germany was a family where the bosses knew everyone’s business in order to control them? How nice a family is it where big daddy will eventually get rid of you in favour of newer, younger, models?

What seemed to be the real message here was the nothing succeeds like success. Blair and Jackson would not have let themselves be associated with Fergie if he had not won thirteen Premiership titles. People trusted Fergie because he was demonstrably successful and they wanted to share that success.

But in the end this came down to football on the field. Man U was like a project team where 19 other project teams were out to make them fail. Sir Alex’s consistently winning ways were gob-smackingly impressive. What was the secret of this success on the field? We were not really told - apart from some rhetoric about the need for team-work.

When someone or something is successful and you want to work out what the secret of success is, you need to identity the qualities you think are important. Then you need to ask if there are cases where people with those qualities have failed. If you find there are cases where they have failed, then you have to think again.

Part of success is persuading people to do what you want, but this is futile if the things you want them to do are not the right ones. To know what the right thing is you need to have a grasp of the thing you are managing.

Project Eye has just noticed a letter from Dr Clive Trusson to the press about the TalkTalk crisis. He says: ‘It is quite normal for managers to claim to be in control of IT systems until such time as they are exposed by events not to be in control at all.’ Put that on your white board!

Sir Alex Ferguson Secrets of Success programme

Clive Trusson’s letter

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