I’m a middle-aged man prone to impulses. The last impulse I had occurred in the pub in less time it took for my mate to buy two pints of ale and a packet of prawn cocktail crisps. I’ve had a few impulses recently and some people think it may be getting out of control. I’ve even been known to share my impulses on social media. I wonder if it’s an age thing. I wonder if others have the same impulses.
I am talking about buying books.
Why a project manager is like a small business owner
A lot of the articles I have written have been based on business or psychology books I have read and how their themes may be seen through a project management lens. This article follows this same approach. The in-the-pub impulse buy was the book “The E Myth Revisited” by Michael E. Gerber .
The E in the title stands for Entrepreneurial, and the E Myth “is that small businesses are started by entrepreneurs risking capital to make a profit,” (page 3). Michael E. Gerber says this is simply not so! But why am I looking at project management from a small business viewpoint? Well in my view, the skills, behaviours and characteristics of a project manager are very similar to those skills, behaviours and characteristics needed of a (small) business owner.
Let me explain. Michael E. Gerber states (page 13) that the fatal assumption of a small business owner is to think “if you understand the technical work of a business, you understand a business that does the technical work. And the reason it’s fatal is that it just isn’t true. In fact, it’s the root cause of most small business failures,” he writes.
Read these statements back – and substitute the word “project” for “business”: If you understand the technical work of a project, you understand a project that does the technical work. And this just isn’t true! Just because you are good at IT or construction or HR does not mean that you understand how to run a project in IT or construction or HR.
My conjecture is actually the other way round – you don’t need to be an expert in IT, construction or HR to run a project that has these as technical streams. Take me as an example: I was a project manager in the automotive industry, but I am not an expert in Powertrain systems – and I don’t need to be to run an automotive project. It’s not my role to be an automotive engineer – my role is to deliver the project to realise the benefits.
The Entrepreneur, The Manager and The Technician
To further this point, Michael E. Gerber says that small business owners need to be a balance of three different personalities: The Entrepreneur, The Manager and The Technician:
“The entrepreneurial personality turns the most trivial condition into an exceptional opportunity. The Entrepreneur is the visionary in us. The dreamer. The energy behind every human activity… the catalyst for change.
“The managerial personality is pragmatic. Without The Manager there would be no planning, no order, no predictability.
“The Technician is the doer.” - (pages 23-26)
Can we draw parallels to Freud’s theory of the Id, Ego and Super-Ego? The Entrepreneur is the Id, The Manager is the Ego, and The Technical, the Super-Ego? Too deep? Let’s park this for another day…
I see the need for all these personalities in a project manager. A visionary, a pragmatist and a doer. Yet we can easily see how there is a conflict between these three personalities: the dreamer, the fretter, and the one who ruminates. Gerber says on page 28, “The fact of the matter is we all have an Entrepreneur, Manager, and Technician inside us. And if they were equally balanced, we’d be describing an incredibly competent individual.”
Project managers need to be dreamers and visionaries too
Are we still too transfixed on making Technicians project managers as they “know most about the technical subject”? Is The Technician still the dominant personality? In which case – are we guilty of the fatal assumption about projects? I do see a change away from The Technician being the dominant personality, and I do see organisations changing their view of what a project manager needs to be.
However, I don’t see an equal balance of the three personalities just yet – the one still imbalanced is The Entrepreneur. Project managers need an entrepreneurial personality – someone who can dream, be the visionary, provide the energy behind the project, yet do we look for these traits when we recruit and develop project managers?
Do you work in your project, or on your project?
Another theme central to his book is that Gerber says small business owners need to “…go to work on your business, rather than in it” (page 98). And I like this philosophy. If project managers are to run projects successfully, they need the mindset of working on the project, not in the project – and in my view me this is a seismic shift in thinking. Yet it’s not easy – can we delegate? (Not abdicate, I hasten to add!) Are we disciplined enough not to revert to our Technician when faced with issues? Does The Entrepreneur have the opportunity to speak up?
If you are guilty of making the fatal assumption and your Technician is dominating (and you’ll already know if this applies to you), then my simple advice echoes what Michael E. Gerber says: go to work on your project, rather than in it. Gerber says this realisation will change your life – I’m hopeful it may change your project.
Throughout his book, Michael E. Gerber cites many quotes from texts he has read, and a lot of them are really resonating with me. It’s taking a lot of self-restraint to avoid more of my impulses!
 Gerber, Michael E. "The E Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work and What to Do About It", HarperCollins, ISBN: 0-88730-728-0
[This article was first published on pmtoday.co.uk on 25/03/20]
Dr Ian Clarkson
Ian has worked with some of the world's largest organisations in all sectors and has been with QA for 16 years.
He was an author of the APM BoK 6 and a referenced reviewer to the most recent update to the PRINCE2 and MSP publications. Ian was on the technical advisory board for the development of the APM Higher Apprenticeship in Project Management, and also for the update to the APM suite of certifications for BoK 6. Ian is a regular blogger, podcaster, and contributor to the APM as well as the Project Manager Today magazine.
When he’s not helping organisations transform, Ian reads the latest articles and research on the topic. Maybe he should just get out more instead!
More articles by Dr Ian
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Artificial intelligence, project management and the skills we'll need in 2030
Digital Transformation: Rise of the Machines
PRINCE2 versus APM Certifications: Don't be a silly billy... The Billy Bookcase analogy
Is project management in your DNA?
I'm OK – You're OK: How to have adult-adult conversations in the workplace
Gains and losses: What are your prospects for a successful project?
Project leadership advice from George Michael
Don’t ignore the gorilla in the room