Posted on October 25th, 2010 in - Craig Covello, Leadership, Project Management | No Comments »
By Craig Covello, PMP
During the course of my long career as an IT project manager, there have been a few times when circumstance and opportunity translated into a strange role that could be accurately described as “Shadow Project Management”. It’s something like the Twilight Zone. This Shadow Project Manager has all the responsibility normally assigned to the official project manager, but without the title. Instead, this position in the Twilight Zone is usually described as some type of special “consultant”. If Rod Serling was alive today, he might offer this description:
“Submitted for your approval is the tale of a project in trouble which requires a “special consultant”. One who ends up filling the void of effective vision, leadership and delegation. It’s a void between shadow and light that transcends space and time. Its limits are only those of the mind itself. Ladies and Gentlemen, you’re entering the wondrous dimension of Shadow Project Management… next stop, The Twilight Zone.”
Perhaps that’s a little dramatic, but you get the point. So why would I accept a position like that? Because it’s for the greater good, as described in the following scenario -
• An enterprise wide, high-profile project is either in trouble or has a very aggressive timeline dictated by upper management.
• Due to corporate politics or possibly lack of good managerial judgment, the project manager picked for the position does not have the experience and/or skills required to successfully complete the mission.
• Project sponsors in the organization believe someone else may have the capability to successfully lead the project team to completion, and therefore, would make a good “insurance policy” if installed as a special “consultant” to the effort. This avoids the pain or political embarrassment of replacing the official project manager.
So when these opportunities come along, I usually accept them without much hardship. The truth is that planning and execution under the Shadow Project Management framework is actually no more difficult than stepping into the role as the official project manager. The Shadow Project Manager usually garners the same level of respect and responsiveness from the team, since there is a natural human tendency to follow individuals with the vision, confidence, experience and skills to get the job done. Titles are secondary. Everyone on the team wants a leader who will create a favorable climate that facilitates task execution and efficiency, while producing a successful project outcome. In my experience, even the official project manager takes direction from the Shadow Project Manager. So there’s a silent acknowledgment established among stakeholders and team members, which implicitly authorizes the “consultant” to stealthily act as the PM.
Admittedly, it is flattering when asked to quietly step in and manage a critical or troubled project and I enjoy the process of successfully completing the mission. But it’s also understandably a little less satisfying to have someone else take the credit at the end of the day. I tend to value the recognition for a job well done as much as the salary that comes with it. Perhaps you do as well.
Then again, it is for the greater good. And occasionally that means denying yourself recognition and entering The Twilight Zone of Shadow Project Management.