Monday, November 17, 2008

Two sides of the matrix

I’m realizing that a lot of my current frustration and stress can be traced directly to where I live in the business development matrix.

I’m a “core team director”, a manager who leads a focused, cross-functional business team.  Together, we act as a “small in large” entrepreneurial unit, chartered to define the market, create the product, demonstrate the feasibility, and remove the risks for a new business opportunity.

Entrepreneurial programs always live or die by their projected revenues, their success against budgets and milestones, and their value relative to other projects.  Thus, there is constant competition to prove the worth and practicality of an idea, based on collecting customer, experimental, and clinical evidence.  This is the ‘up' side of the program director’s job.

Projects end at handoff / market introduction, or when they miss a milestone / window of opportunity.  Then the program director is left to pick up the pieces and find a new position.

So, the life of a program director must, by it’s very nature, oscillate between funded certainty and transitional uncertainty.

Contrast this with the other side of the matrix, the functional departments that supply people and components to the active projects.


Regardless of the composition of the project portfolio, there is always a need for electrical engineers, systems engineers, and product analysts.  Thus, the department heads have very stable, long-term jobs.  They evolve their departments to keep up with overall demand and to stay abreast of new technologies and processes, but unless the department is outsourced, their life has few ups and downs.

While seeking my next position, I’ve been reflecting back on the best times before this: exciting projects I’ve worked on and great teams I’ve worked with.  Sometimes, though, innovative ideas were lost when projects were abandoned in mid-flight.  Other times, talented teams were disbanded because projects were finished.  I have been thinking that there must be something very wrong within organizations that let waste happen.

But I’m coming to understand that change, good and bad, it at the very heart of the project manager’s world.  It’s a truth that all teams, all programs, are temporary and dependent.  The projects themselves rise and fall, coalesce and dissolve, within large corporate organizations as within small venture environments.

What I’ve realized is that project management is a short-term, unstable profession in any setting.

And, conversely, if I want to continue as a core program director, then living with organizational change comes with every territory.

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