Project Practitioners > What's Your Role - Umbrella or Funnel?

What's Your Role - Umbrella or Funnel?

By Brian Irwin

Hi, my name is Brian and I deliver no value! There, I said it. I'm glad I got that off my chest. Read that first sentence again and replace it with your own name. Now, go back and read it again. Take it in, contemplate it, and ponder it deeply. Read it carefully and think very hard about what you do each and every day as a project manager.

Note that I did not say that I wasn't valuable or that I provide no value.  I purposely stated that I deliver no value. Most project managers I know do not serve simultaneously as team members on the projects they’re managing. Therefore, recognize that you are not delivering value. Let’s acknowledge that the team is delivering the value to the customer and the organization—not executive managers, middle managers or, dare I say, project managers. Breathe it in deeply and let it disperse throughout your entire being. Remove the project teams from your organization and you remove value being delivered to your customers, however you define them.

I’d like for every single one of us to recognize that we work for the teams that deliver value to our customers. They do not work for us; they work for our customers. We can too easily forget this, if we ever really understood it in the first place. Our teams and front-line works deliver value; executives, managers, and project managers enable value delivery. You may think you understand this but your actions may be telling the team a different story.

When I review the entire spectrum of successes and failures I’ve experienced throughout my project management career it’s clear to me that in each of those instances of failure I was not behaving as if I truly understood this simple truth. One of the more seasoned project management mentors I was fortunate enough to have worked with throughout my career once explained to me that I would be able to serve the team in only one of two ways. I would either be serving as a s#@t umbrella, shielding the team from the toxic rain of project and organizational excrement with which they are so often pelted; or I could serve as a s#@t funnel, focusing it directly on them inhibiting their ability to deliver value to customers.

Once I began to act as an umbrella, my project success rates improved and team members became happy and enthusiastic about their jobs. There were so many instances in my early career that I would interrupt the team to gather status reports and provide communication that was unclear and/or poorly delivered. There are numerous reasons why I love agile project management, but this is one that I probably savor the most. All agile values, principles, and methods recognize outright that the team is the true provider of value and the role of leadership and management is that of a servant, removing obstacles for the team and enabling the delivery of value both early and often. Executives may reside at the top of the reporting hierarchy but teams occupy the top of the value delivery chain.

Great project leadership is often not visible. Problems are anticipated before they occur and things just seem to go smooth. I challenge each and every one of you to consider your role carefully and the part you play when facing your team. What’s it going to be, umbrella or funnel?  What will you do today to become an umbrella?

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Brian, this is marvelous, and describes to a T the difference between the best managers I've had through the years and the worst ones. Kent McDonald has another great way of phrasing it: Move boulders, don't throw pebbles. :) Either way, it comes down to the same thing, and I love this message.

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