We all consume hundreds or thousands of information bites every day. We use filters to quickly determine which items are important and which to pass by. Every once in a while you read something that catches your attention and requires more thought.
“We don’t have interdepartmental project managers. The people who actually do the work do that.”[i]
Wow, what punch in the gut! This is a quote from Palo Alto Networks Founder Nir Zuk in Forbes.com April 2nd article entitled: Project Managers Will Kill Your Company: advice from Palo Alto Networks Founder Nir Zuk.
Mr. Zuk is a highly successful entrepreneur and technology visionary. He is listed as one riches 400 Americans at the age of 41. So what did we (Project Managers) do to Nir? A look at his past may give us a clue. He was a top engineer at Check Point Software, co-founded OneSecure and served as the CTO of NetScreen, which was sold to Juniper Networks in 2004. To summarize, this guy has been in one of most rapidly changing industries in the world over the past 10-15 years — internet security — and he has been enormously successful. I think we can conclude from his experience, project managers were not enablers of project success, but rather roadblocks! For someone like Mr. Zuk to say to “project managers will kill your company” may be an eye opener, for me, it’s not.
When reading into Nir’s blatant hatred for bureaucracy, you can see how project managers have no warm place in his heart. He has seen several small entrepreneur companies be purchased by larger companies only to see B and C players infiltrate the company line up and ultimately slow down decision making and ultimately progress. He simply moved on and started another company vowing to crush the notion you need people to help coordinate among different departments. Nir believes once you have players on board who don’t do anything valuable, just coordinating, that is the beginning of the end for the organization. These players, i.e. project managers, have an interest in making sure there is always something to coordinate, so they start inventing problems that don’t really exist. A can do attitude is replaced by can’t do. These beliefs by the founder of Palo Alto Networks have really been around for years, maybe whispered in break rooms and corporate gyms, the only difference is they are openly discussed by a young successful entrepreneur CEO and they are now printed!
It is not uncommon for project managers to place themselves as the central point of all project communication, managing and controlling information flow and coordinate activities. Controlling scope, cost, schedule and managing communications are core competencies of project managers. But now are they in question?
In my book The Strategic Project Leader — Mastering Service-based Project Leadership(second edition expected out in 2014), I warn project managers to redefine themselves, before others do, as Service-based Project Leaders who become morally obligated to achieve efficiency on projects, use foresight to lead instead of reacting to events, embrace customization of project processes and deliverables to create experiences for stakeholders, and enable connectedness among resources to speed up progress and improve decision making. Service-based project leaders serve all stakeholders including project team members by growing their capabilities and in turn the organization’s ability to react to change effectively.
Ultimately we need to define ourselves not just as schedulers, coordinators, information hubs, meeting planners, and documentation specialists, but as people who increase the effectiveness of the organization to change; this begins with capabilities of the team members and organization to be more efficient and effective.
We now have a high-tech entrepreneur redefining us a B, C players — enemies of progress!
What will our response be? Ignore it or start to examine our own behavior, competencies and motivations. Stay tuned!
[i] http://www.forbes.com/sites/calebmelby/2013/04/02/project-managers-will-kill-your-company-advice-from-palo-alto-networks-founder-nir-zuk/e interdepartmental project managers.