Hey Project Manager, are you a more of a Jedi or a Stormtrooper?

During a recent conversation with a colleague about the qualities of a project manager, I decided to explore various organizations’ standards regarding the “role of a project manager.” Here’s what I discovered.

My initial source was PMI’s PMBOK Guide Version 5, which states on page 17 that project managers are responsible for satisfying task needs, team needs, and individual needs. It also mentions that the project manager’s role becomes increasingly strategic, but merely understanding and applying good practices is not enough for effective project management. I must admit, after reading this multiple times, I found it somewhat confusing.

To illustrate my point, let’s replace “project manager” with “airline pilot.” Pilots also need to fulfill needs related to tasks, teams, and individuals. We could say, “A pilot’s role becomes increasingly strategic. However, understanding and applying good practices in aviation is not sufficient for effective piloting.” Do you see the parallel?

Next, I examined Axelos’ description of PRINCE2. According to them, the project manager is solely responsible for the day-to-day management of a project and has the authority to run it within the constraints set by the Project Board.

This description seems like stating the obvious. Even a third-grader could tell you that a project manager manages projects.

It appears that most definitions and descriptions, including the ones I mentioned, effectively portray project managers as mere followers of orders, akin to stormtroopers. This notion is absurd.

Climbing on my soapbox

Based on my 20+ years of experience managing and directing government, aerospace, IT, financial, and legal projects, leading GPM, and serving as President for the U.S. member association of the International Project Management Association (IPMA-USA), I would like to provide a concise and practical description.

Before I do that, I must acknowledge my general agreement with GAPPS when they assert that defining the project manager role across different organizations, application areas, and project types poses challenges. Nevertheless, these challenges should not prevent us from offering a clear role definition. They should, however, emphasize the importance of simplicity and sensibility in such a description.

Use the Force or follow orders?

I believe it’s time for project managers to resemble Jedi rather than stormtroopers. Why? A Jedi possesses five key traits: reliability, objectivity, humility, patience, and wisdom, all of which are essential for achieving positive results.

Think of the classic line from The Empire Strikes Back, where Yoda instructs Luke, saying, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” This means wholeheartedly committing oneself to a task, regardless of the outcome. This is the kind of project manager I would hire.

Now, compare that with a scene from The Force Awakens, where Captain Phasma addresses Finn upon his return from his first battle, finding he hadn’t fired his blaster.

 

Compare with the scene in The Force Awakens where Captain Phasma addresses Finn when he returned from his first battle, having not fired his blaster.

Captain Phasma: FN-2187, submit your blaster for inspection.
Finn: Yes, Captain.
Captain Phasma: And who gave you permission to remove that helmet?
Finn: I am sorry captain
Captain Phasma: Report to my division at once

A stormtrooper’s traits are limited to “don’t stick out” and “shoot when told.” This approach focuses solely on output and requires nothing more than task management skills. This is not the kind of project manager I would hire.

So, without further ado, here is my short and sweet 16 word definition.

“The role of the project manager is to ensure successful delivery of the project business case.”

Was that so hard? No.

I chose to word it this way because the business case serves as a vital test of the project’s viability. It is used to secure funding and should be actively maintained throughout the project’s lifespan, continuously updated with current information on costs, risks, benefits, and impacts. If the project’s goal is to realize the business case, it goes without saying that the project manager’s role is to ensure the realization of those benefits, relying on their skills, abilities, and knowledge. It isn’t “do what you are told.”

So ask yourself, are you a Stormtrooper or a Jedi?

If you are stuck in the command and conquer role and want to be a jedi, it is possible.  The first step is to request the business case to aid you in decision making.

The business case gives you a solid and detailed justification for starting a project. It lays out the project’s goals, what it aims to achieve, and all the costs, risks, and benefits involved.

This helps everyone involved make smart decisions about whether to go ahead with the project and invest in it. On the other hand, a project charter usually just gives you a high-level overview of the project without getting into the nitty-gritty financial and strategic stuff.

Another big advantage of a project business case is that it shows how the project aligns with the bigger goals and priorities of the organization. It’s all about making sure the project fits in with the organization’s overall strategy and contributes to its success. The business case spells out the expected benefits and explains how the project will help achieve those benefits.

This is way more powerful than a project charter, which is basically just a quick document to authorize the project. So if you want to make sure your project is on track and delivering real value, a project business case is the way to go.

May the Force be With You!

Related: For a deeper perspective on output vs benefits focus, see Peter Milsom’s excellent post.  To get the Jedi’s PM weapon, download our P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management.  It’s free!

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

5 thoughts to “Hey Project Manager, are you a more of a Jedi or a Stormtrooper?”

  1. Good article, Dr. Joel but I would challenge you on a couple of points. First is your statement that “pilots” make “STRATEGIC” decisions. As a pilot, I can state factually that is not true. aS A Pilot in Command (PiC) we get to make TACTICAL decisions, which is CONSISTENT with being a project manager in OWNER organizations. For more on the differences between STRATEGIC and TACTICAL in the context of applied project management, go HERE https://en.wikiversity.org/w/index.php?title=Introduction_to_Strategic_Studies/What_Is_Strategy%3F_Why_Study_Strategy%3F&_Why_Study_Strategy%3F= Linking this to your analogy, means the “project manager” is in fact a Company Grade Officer- Lieutenant, Captain or perhaps a Major. Certainly not Colonel or General level.

    The other concern I have lies with the fact that you have chosen how organizations representing the practice of project management define who we are and what we do. Surely you can agree that there is a high probability that these organizations are taking a biased or favorable view ? If you go HERE http://www.planningplanet.com/guild/gpccar/introduction-to-managing-project-controls and scroll down to Figure 2, you will see a graphic originating from R. Max Wideman back in the mid-1970’s which illustrates that in an OWNER organization, project managers are not high level managers at all, but merely low level managers, with no formal power or authority to make strategic decisions and in many cases, limited in their formal authority to even make tactical decisions. Which means that whether we like it or not, most project managers working in OWNER organizations, are more closely aligned with the “Stormtrooper” model, where they are following orders.

    Thus UNLESS we, as project managers have been formally empowered to make strategic decisions, there is no way that we can or should be held accountable for the BUSINESS CASE. The reality being that we have enough of a challenge just managing the tactical challenges facing us. Bringing this back to our airline pilot analogy, does the pilot have ANY control over how many people choose to fly on his/her flight? Does the PiC have any control over which plane he/she gets to fly that day? Does the PiC have any control over choosing the crew he/she has been assigned for that flight?

    Bottom line- I would hope you at least qualify your definition as being a worthy “to be” situation but having been in the project management business for more than 40 years now, I have yet to see it happen and seriously doubt I ever will.

    1. Hi Paul,

      Regarding Pilots, I was not implying that at all. What I was implying is that the statement “understanding and applying the knowledge, tools, and techniques that are recognized as good practice are not sufficient for effective project management.” as a caveat under a role description is silly.

      I can tell you with 100% confidence that project managers are being empowered to make more strategic decisions. At present, our GPM Centre of Excellence is providing advisory for four projects that have a budget around 500 Million USD and in each instance, the project managers are being given larger strategic roles, a trend that I see increasing.

      As I stated in my post, that in my experience across multiple industries, having worked for the big four consulting, a top 5 U.S. National Bank , Aerospace, and local government, I have always been in a role as project manager to make strategic decisions. Many of my colleagues, share the same experience.

      I will not say that my experience negates yours of vice versa however I will state that from my position, in today’s business landscape, there is a trend in this direction. We are developing a survey that will span 100 countries and over 25,000 project managers and executives which we expect to validate this. We will happily share the findings.

  2. Hello admin how are you doing?
    I read your post about Hey Project Manager, are you a more of a Jedi or a Stormtrooper?.
    I really like your post and also the other posts you have on your blog. You’re sharing a really good information for project managers.

  3. I see the metaphor or the analogy a bit elsewhere. I watched Star Wars IV. New Hope, in 1979, aged 5 in a local cinema that is now long defunct in my home town, in very communist Poland. A childhood determining event. First of all, we need to compare what is comparable. The Storm Trooper are just rank and file soldiers and Jedi are an elite order of monks-warriors, something like Shaolin. The decades long opposition is between the Jedi and the Sith. There is a duality between them, they both exploit the strengths and weaknesses of the other. The Sith are a kind of an absolutist bunch, with all or nothing, good or bad, with-me-or-against-me me mentality, as described by Obi-Wan: “Only a Sith deals in absolutes”. Now, Jedi are based upon a philosophy which is a kind of mixture of eastern Zen and ancient stoicism. It’s a nice philosophy, and I am definitely a Jedi. The phrase: “Do. Or do not. There is no try” has always guided me. But there is a but. Jedi are a story of peace and of failure (the last three episodes are pretty much about that). The stoicism philosophy has actually produced Darth Vader, through the prohibition of emotions (the middle three episodes are pretty much about that). Which Palpatine was able to exploit. Luke was at his best when he integrated his teachings and his instincts, even if some of his emotional reactions were not accepted by his masters. He prematurely left his simulator training on Degobah for the field action in the Cloud City. The lessons from this are, in my view: do not follow any philosophy – or methodology – blindly and religiously and take into account the feelings, both those of stakeholders, your team and your own. Fail that, and you will face the Sith.

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