| In Part 1 of this article,
I asked you to think of the Project Manager's (PM's) job
in terms of an hourglass. In this analogy, the top of
the hourglass is the PM's hierarchy, the bottom the project
team, and the connecting tube the PM. The hourglass sand
can be anything from proposals, directions, data, and
other forms of articulated communication to the unstated
forms of communication, such as assumptions, perceptions,
and/or prejudices that pass between the two parts. A PM's
success is often determined by his or her ability to effectively
manage this passage of sand!
In Part 1, I focused mainly on the PM's role in managing
the project team. Here I will consider the other end of
the glass, the hierarchy. I base much of what I know on
my own observations. You have probably noted that little
is written or taught about how PMs should manage their
hierarchy. The "Dilbert" cartoon strip may even be the
most widely cited authority on this subject. My experience
derives primarily from an opportunity I once had to report
directly to a manager four levels above me and to assist
in managing his project teams and his hierarchy for two
years. This, perhaps, could be the most insightful experience
of my career. I learned what was important to five separate
levels in my organization!
of MyCn18, a young planetary nebula with an hourglass
What PMs Say about Their Hierarchies
The comments I hear from PMs regarding their hierarchies
generally tend toward varying states of bewilderment:
"They want me to manage everything and don't want
to be disturbed."
"They've done this before...they should know how tough
"They can't handle the truth!"
"They can't make up their minds and it's hurting my
"They're busy and don't have time to spend with me."
"My hierarchy wants to meet with me regularly to follow
my project's progress."
"They know what needs to be done, why don't they just
"Hierarchy was totally aligned to my project 6 months
ago. What could have changed?"
Things to Keep in Mind
Some things PMs must realize about hierarchy:
Your Hierarchical IQ
- Hierarchy is comprised of individuals, each with
his or her own biases, assumptions, experiences, expectations,
concerns, and knowledge about the project; the project
team; and the PM. When a PM lumps all these individuals
together, "they" become much harder to manage than
any one individual.
- Hierarchy is comprised of levels. The individual
needs and expectations of one level toward the PM
may be at odds with those at other levels. A PM needs
to understand what the needs and expectations are
at each level and determine a strategy to address
- Not all hierarchy has decision-making rights on
a project. A PM has to be able to understand and differentiate
what each level can accomplish.
- Hierarchy has information about future events that
can impact the PM's project. The PM must gain the
hierarchy's trust and confidence to obtain this information
as soon as possible to properly manage the project
I believe PMs should take the following steps to measure
and then improve their hierarchical IQ:
If you don't understand who your hierarchy is and how
they can impact your project, you don't have a very high
- Understand your authority on the project and what
items require decisions from outside the project team.
- Learn, early in the project's life, about all organizations
whose hierarchy may impact your project.
- Learn the name and level of the individuals in the
hierarchy you plan to maintain a communication link
with. Understand what decisions pertinent to your
project each level is able to make.
- Hold regular meetings (group or 1:1) with specific
members of the hierarchy to better understand each
one's needs and expectations throughout the life of
- Bring the hierarchy together on a regular basis
to review the project. Too often the PM assumes the
hierarchy discusses the project and the PM's concerns
with one another. This is not always a safe assumption.
Communicating with Hierarchy
Once you take the above steps, you need to improve on
the following two areas to better influence your hierarchy
and increase your hierarchical IQ.
This wraps up my thoughts on "The Hour Glass and the Project
Manager." Now it's time to go out and practice what you've
learned. Hurry now, as the sand is always flowing in your
- Sharpen your listening skills. Surprisingly,
few PMs really listen to what their hierarchies are
trying to tell them. If you ever wanted to be that
infamous fly on the wall, remember that flies aren't
known for being big talkers. PMs want to communicate
their thoughts, ideas, plans, etc. to the hierarchy.
This is good and expected of you, but the key is to
listen to what the hierarchy is telling you about
your project. Learn what could positively or negatively
impact it, and then act accordingly.
- Sharpen your proposal-making skills. PMs
should be very clear what they want the hierarchy
to do. Don't allow hierarchy to try and guess what
you want from them. If you want them to do something,
you should have the conviction to ask for it. If you
don't want them to do anything, you should state this
clearly. PMs should understand what they want of their
hierarchy prior to meeting with them either in group
settings or in 1:1 meetings.
Scott Cameron is Capital Systems Manager for
the Food & Beverage Global Business Unit of Procter
& Gamble. He has been managing capital projects
and mentoring other capital management practitioners
for the past 20 years at Procter & Gamble within
its Beauty Care, Health Care, Food & Beverage, and
Fabric & Home Care Businesses.