IPMA International Project Management Association
10 February 2020 / 9:00

Leadership Speed: An important attribute in ‘cocktail of capabilities’ to manage projects

Projects are inherently value-driven entities. While a number of factors facilitate the creation of value in projects, the role of project leadership in enabling such value is indisputable.

Project leadership is quite a broad and complex concept involving a cocktail of capabilities ranging from managerial to technical aspects. A project leader is, thus, expected to possess a wide array of people, processes, technical skills and synergize them to create value for the client(s) and relevant stakeholder(s). Among the various attributes in the cocktail of capabilities, one attribute that has received little attention in the project leadership literature is the role of leadership speed and its effects on the creation of project value.

Leadership speed is defined as “reducing the time to value” (Zenger & Folkman, 2017). What it means in project management (PM) context is the design and delivery of projects in such a way which minimizes the project risks through adequate project care (effective and efficient planning, follow-ups and execution), maximizes best quality of project delivered and enables sustained and immediate returns/gains on the invested capital for the client.

Leadership speed in PM parlance should not be misconstrued as leadership aimed at just delivering the project on time or within budget but should be taken as one that facilitates the immediate and sustained legitimate returns on the invested capital.

Now the question is what one needs to do to achieve leadership speed in PM context and what are some of the traits that could help achieve the leadership speed? To answer the question, below we present some of the possible elements and traits that could help in building leadership speed capabilities in PM domain. Needless to mention that the below list is neither exhaustive nor conclusive and only meant to build some early knowledge on the concept.

Some key elements to achieve Leadership Speed in PM

  1. Understand stakeholders‘ expectations of the value

The first and foremost thing to do is to develop a clear understanding of the client or relevant stakeholders’ expectations of value and their projection of the length of time over which they expect to realize the value. Such an understanding will help set the required benchmarks and direction for achieving the leadership speed by: (1) designing the project deliverables in a way so as to complete the project work within project duration and making efforts to reduce the duration without compromising on quality, and (2) ensuring quality of work is maintained in order to reduce any potential problems at the time of the launch of the product/service for realization of value.

By delivering a product/service earlier than the delivery deadline (where possible), and which that causes the minimum number of issues and problems at the time of launch will set the tone for achieving the desired value. However, the key to leadership speed is that the product/service is able to achieve sustained interest in the market over considerable period of time so that the client is able to secure the desired return on investments. If the product is launched successfully but could not generate the value over longer period of time, the situation may require redesigning or launching a new product; hence the time to value will increase, indicating possible issues with the leadership speed.

  1. Align value delivery to project tasks

It is important that the value delivery is aligned to the design and execution strategy of project tasks to achieve leadership speed. In particular, optimizing the product/service design will be critical to reduce or eliminate the waste related to product/service creation and use, which will ultimately help in reducing the time to value for the client. The project leadership, therefore, needs to employ or assign project staff that has the required expertise and skills to optimize planning and design of the product/service as well as project execution so as to reduce the time in creating the deliverables while maintaining high quality.

  1. Stay cognizant of the risks and quality considerations

Being cognizant of the quality and risks is another important area to achieve leadership speed in PM context. The understanding of quality requirements will help ensure that the design is as per quality standards and guidelines, and product use will meet the regulatory requirements of the relevant markets. Often quality requirements and standards vary across geographical boundaries within one country and across countries. Therefore, at the design stage knowing such quality requirements will help in integrating quality standards in the design of the product/service, ultimately reducing the time to value for the client.

PM plays a vital role in reducing the risks for the client and the users of the products/services. A product/service that is hazardous when used could entail significant risks for the users and adversely effect the value creation for the client. An understanding of the materials / technology to be used, and functionalities of the products/services is critical to minimize or eliminate the risks and thus reduce time to value.

  1. Understand value proposition beyond project completion

The understanding of value proposition beyond project completion will help analyze the product life-cycle, impacts and challenges to value creation over the product lifecycle. A product/service that is scalable in terms of integrating new technologies, functions and features is expected to last long and generate value over longer periods of time. Project leadership needs to have the skills to build the vision of product/service over its lifecycle so as to be able to understand the value proposition of the product/service beyond project completion in order to reduce the time to value.

To acquire an understanding of the long-term value proposition, it would be worth talking to the client and seek opinion from the subject matter experts. The information such gathered can be used to build a visual roadmap of product/service over its lifecycle and integration of experts’ advice into product/service design.

  1. Disseminate ‘vision-for-value’ roadmap among the project team members

Given that the project work is team-based, it is critical that the vision of leadership speed is driven down across all levels of the project organization. The team members need to be provided guidance on what leadership wants to achieve while emphasizing that leadership speed is not about delivering a product/service that is prone to defects and requiring re-work.
Project leadership can organize brief seminars to bring all the team members on the same page about how to achieve leadership speed and then keep hammering the message through frequent communications, so that team-members can help achieve the objectives of leadership speed.

Possible traits that could help develop Leadership speed

  1. Self-leadership

Achieving leadership speed requires exercising self-leadership. It means being proactive to gain an understanding of multiple elements: (a) the value and its context, (b) the factors that could facilitate or hinder achieving value, (c) the technologies that will help in achieving value as well as the drawbacks in using the technologies, (d) processes and their effectiveness, and (e) the skills needed to create value.
A lack of self-leadership and inquisitiveness in finding ways to reduce time to value will only make it difficult to achieve leadership speed.

  1. ‘Management by values’ focus

Another trait that will be very helpful in achieving leadership speed is to have ‘management by values’ focus while delivering the project. By leveraging upon the parent organization’s values, philosophies, process guidelines, quality standards, risk protocols, work practices, and knowledge pools; the project leaders can reduce errors, avoid recreating the processes/systems, spend less time on troubleshooting the problems, use existing/established work practices and improve quality of project delivery.

  1. Competencies in technology-intensive PM

The use of technologies for the creation of products/services has become a common feature. Therefore, having an understanding of the technologies to be used for the creation of products/services as well as those used for PM work and processes is critical to reduce the time to value. Being unable to have such an understanding will severely impact the ability to achieve leadership speed particularly in the tech-driven world of today.

  1. Knowledge hunger and application of new knowledge

Having insatiable hunger for acquiring new knowledge and building capabilities by using the newly acquired knowledge for project delivery is a very important trait to achieve leadership speed. A project leader that possesses such a trait is expected to help build innovative products/services, help solve problems more effectively and quickly, help reduce project delivery time, foresee the problems and opportunities related to product/service being delivered and work with the client to generate sustained revenue for the client over the product lifecycle.

  1. Upward and downward management capabilities

Achieving leadership speed requires working with people at all levels within the project organization, as value delivery cannot be achieved without having cooperation and building synergies across various aisles in the project set-up. Building commonality of understanding and vision will help in achieving buy-in from people up and down the hierarchy in a project set-up and should make it easy to reduce the time to value.

Concluding thoughts:
Creating value is the single-most-important objective of any project organization. Leadership plays a significant role in driving achievement of such an objective. However, the notion of value is not limited to achieving PM success and delivering the product/service alone, but it means generating the actual return on investments for the client.

Leadership speed is a competency that helps reduce time to value, and project organizations are the cog in the machine that could help achieve reduced time to value. Given the little knowledge of leadership speed in PM context, we have proposed some elements and traits that need to considered by project leaders to achieve leadership speed. Moreover, in hindsight, due to growing competitiveness of business environment, it is but necessary to build capabilities in leadership speed for project delivery, as it will not only help clients in achieving the augmented value of their investments but will also help boost image of PM as a value-driving knowledge domain.

Zenger, J.H., & Folkman, J.R. (2017). Tactics to increase Leadership Speed. Leader to Leader, 2017(86), 23-28. 

Authored by:
Professor Jiwat Ram
© 2020 Jiwat Ram, All Rights Reserved.

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Author of this post

Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments.

Jiwat is currently serving on the Editorial Board of International Journal of Project Management.

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community. His work has been published in top scientific journals and Four of his published papers have remained in Top25 most downloaded papers. Additionally, two of his papers have been ranked as the Most Cited article published since 2012. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the issues confronting project management in various industry based outlets.