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Is There a Difference Between Leading a Project and Leading a Business?

Well of course there is, these are completely different animals aren’t they? Businesses are complex mixtures of owners, managers, leaders, investors, products and services; and projects just have a start and an end. Well, maybe. Let’s look a little more carefully at projects though and see what’s really involved in their leadership.

Projects do indeed have a start and an end…well hopefully they do. We’re all aware of larger projects that seem to generate a life of their own and become part of the business fabric without people realizing it. For the most part though any project whether large or small can be characterized by:

  • a set of requirements – what it has to deliver,
  • a timescale – a schedule of delivery and waypoints to getting there,
  • a budget for completion.

That sounds pretty simple really, doesn’t it? So why do so many projects fail in at least one of these three areas when all the Project Leader needs to do is agree upon what needs to be delivered, work out the timeline for delivery and get a budget agreed?

It’s pretty straightforward when everything that is required for project success is completely under the control of the person tasked with delivering that project. In reality this only ever happens when that one individual can do all that is required to deliver the project by themselves. In other words, in all but really small straightforward projects someone will have to lead the project and that requires working with other people, often inside and outside the organization. All those other people whether they are part of a Project Team (that needs leading) or are somewhere in the organization that has an interest either directly or indirectly with the project can influence it positively or negatively.

Common sense dictates, therefore, that the Project Leader will have to engage with all of these Stakeholders (horrible word but let’s not be afraid to introduce a little terminology). Finance departments, senior Directors and even HR will be essential groups to maintain good relationships with to ensure budgets get approved, the project is made visible at the highest levels and the project gets the best people available to ensure it delivers. But remember, none of this is working directly on the Project, itself; that has to be left up to the Project Team to:

  • deliver the project to the set of requirements,
  • in the right timescales, and
  • to the budget agreed.

Providing the Project Leader gives sufficient guidance and spends an appropriate amount of time working ‘on the project,’  then it’s likely the project will be a success as all the Project Stakeholders will have been kept suitably informed and engaged.

So, is there a difference between leading a project and leading a business?

The answer is still ‘yes‘ but only because of the differences in the business requirements, the timescales involved and the budget, everything else is pretty much the same. Business Leaders need to balance their time and effort between working on the business itself and keeping their Business Stakeholders suitably informed and engaged.

Copyright © 2010 Paul Slater

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