PM Articles > Kimberly Wiefling > Choosing Leaders: What If We Selected Project Managers the Way We Elect a US President?

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Choosing Leaders: What If We Selected Project Managers the Way We Elect a US President?

By Kimberly Wiefling

Typically I avoid anything to do with politics. I concluded long ago that governments were not going to solve the major problems of our world. Jared Diamond's book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is filled with examples of entire civilizations that have vanished as a result of one sort of catastrophe or another -- mostly self-induced. (You can see Jared's despair-inducing TED Talk -- here.) One common pattern described in his book is that the various political leaders involved did little to help their societies avoid extinction aside from building big monuments to themselves.

Unfortunately this year I've found the US presidential campaign shenanigans to be pretty much unavoidable. I saw one local store, selling Donald Trump masks, complete with his signature comb-over. You could find them right next to the toilet paper bearing the likenesses of all of the major US presidential primary candidates as well as our current president. This seems a bit irreverent, even for me!

Watching this political circus got me wondering… what if we chose project managers the way we choose a US president? I thought it might be fun to explore how that might work. Please keep in mind that I offer this as a lighthearted look at the process of selecting a leader, and not as an endorsement or indictment of any particular candidate or party. And it goes without saying that no candidates have endorsed this article.

Proposed Project Manager Selection Process… for consideration by the honorable House of Reprehensibles:

FINANCES. Naturally we'd have to finance the project manager campaign somehow. Perhaps the various departments likely to be involved in the project would contribute through PACs (Project Action Committees). For hardware projects, manufacturing might contribute to candidates with slogans like "Design For Manufacturability", while the Finance & Accounting Department might back those who champion cost reduction and increased profitability. Sales people might be swayed by candidates who promise "Our answer is 'yes'… what is your question?", and R&D teams would surely be keen to vote for a PM who vowed to return to the good old days when technology drove development instead of those pesky customer requirements.

FAMILY. Check their family history. Be sure to only choose candidate project managers who come from the right families. Oh, and it's helpful if the candidate is wealthy beyond your wildest imagination. OK, maybe a really rich PM won't have much interest in a job, but perhaps once elected they could afford to pay someone else to do the work. After all, most project managers would happily sub-contract out the more unsavory parts of their job responsibilities!

PROMISES. Candidate project managers have a responsibility to win over their potential constituents, preferably by making outlandish promises during the campaigns. Have them spew utter nonsense such as "We're going to do things differently this time," "You'll get whatever resources and support you need to get this project done right," and "Work-life balance is going to be our guiding principle." Don't worry about whether anyone will keep those promises. It's not really lying if people know you're just being theatrical in order to get the assignment.

ELIGIBILITY. It's absolutely essential that the project manager has achieved the latest certifications in whichever region the project will be occurring. Get proof of that! (You don't need a birth certificate, of course.)

QUALIFICATIONS. Your PR Department should dig up as much dirt as possible on the background of each prospective project manager. Go as far back as necessary to unearth some irrelevant yet highly embarrassing details of their personal lives. After all, how will they stand up to ranting customers if they can't take some heat now?! Question their motives for even the most innocent of actions. And if they DID do something hideous, blow it all out of proportion in order to assure that -- even if they WERE to be elected -- no one in their right mind would respect them enough to take their leadership seriously.

INTER-CANDIDATE COMMUNICATION. Here are some terrific ways that your potential PMs could interact with one another during the campaign process:

  • Publicly post unflattering pictures of their opponents playing beer pong.
  • Criticize their grade school picture -- anything irrelevant will do, really.
  • Make reference to the small size of the… um -- hands… of the other candidates.
  • Even everything out by simply calling each other "incompetent to do the job".

Oh, and be sure to attack any groups of people who might inspire negative feelings among your potential supporters. Aim for divisiveness of the sort that inspires project team failure, such as pitting product development designers against the production folks who need to build the product in volume. Above all, assure that their interactions are nothing short of a circus. Don't let any issues of substance be discussed. And display a disclaimer at all times saying, "Nothing said here will in any way obligate the project manager selected to act in accordance with the statements made here today."

VOTING. Give your employees the illusion that they are involved in the project manager selection process by holding a series of votes. Invalidate these votes through a complex process of proxy voting representation and hide it all behind a completely unfathomable third-party voting structure, a mysterious collection of people who will decide the final election. Of course your IT department needs to be ready to manipulate the voting machines to produce the desired outcome if the popular vote is too far off from the desired result.

SECRET SOCIETY. After all is said and done, have a bunch of rich, powerful people secretly meet in a dark room somewhere, smoke a bunch of cigars, drink expensive scotch, and decide what's going to happen in the project regardless of who's the project manager. ... OK, maybe this doesn't really happen in the US, but I'm so freaked out by things I've heard in this campaign, I've begun to hope it does!

Of course we don't select PMs, or any workplace leaders, this way. (Then why is it anywhere close to OK for selecting our country's leadership?!)

Hope for the Future

Although I might appear quite cynical, I do have high hopes for the future of both project managers and political leadership. Why? Because I've observed that both projects and governments can and do survive less-than-stellar or even bad leaders.

A sound democratic government has checks and balances to ensure that no one person has total control (even a person considered a great leader). The other governing bodies have their roles and responsibilities and critical seat at the table. Likewise a project's success can never be totally dependent on the project manager and we don't expect it to be. A great project team that knows what needs to be done doesn't require much guidance from a project manager, as long as they unite in their commitment to the goals and have access to the resources they need to do their jobs. Then there's the emergence of self-organizing and self-managing teams, where power and responsibilities are shared among team members. It's possible that we'll find ourselves evolving towards a new kind of organization that has little or no need for a traditional leader.

In the meantime, for the leaders we do have in various spheres, I believe that how we select them in the first place does matter – and that in terms of process and decorum, we can do better than the shenanigans we've witnessed this year!

Thank you for taking time to read this. Good luck to us all!

- Kimberly

EDITOR'S NOTE: The article above is intended as satire and should be taken in that vein. Comments addressing the satire as it relates to project management, project leadership, and general organizational management are welcome. Comments about specific political candidates or issues, presidential or otherwise, will be subject to moderation with extreme prejudice. Thank you!

Kimberly Wiefling, founder of Wiefling Consulting and co-founder of Silicon Valley Alliances, is the author of Scrappy Project Management (published in English and Japanese), and the executive editor of the "Scrappy Guides" series. Kimberly helps managers become leaders and groups of people become true teams that can achieve what seems impossible -- and would be for any individual acting alone. "Impossible" just means we haven't figured out how to do it yet!

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