- Your organization’s growth opportunities fall into four different categories, and in order to develop your business in a commercially sustainable manner, you need four specific types of project manager to pursue them
- These highlights from HBR touch on how to approach this
- The Four Types of Project Managers
- The four types pursue different growth opportunities and follow different communicative logics to gain support within the organization – you need them all because they see and support different types of growth opportunities
- They are Prophets, Gamblers, Experts and Executors – See below for a description of each.
Prophet. This type of project manager actively pursues business opportunities that lie outside the existing strategic boundaries in an area where it is extremely difficult to obtain trustworthy data concerning the likelihood of success. Hence, the prophet seeks to gain organizational followers for a grand vision of a growth opportunity that is strategically different from the status quo — and without trustworthy quantitative evidence, consequently relying on organizational members making a leap of faith in support of the vision. Obviously, running such projects is risky, as it is likely that the growth opportunities will not materialize, and therefore that the employee may be a “false prophet.” Be that as it may, a prophet is needed to challenge the existing strategy and to pursue overlooked growth opportunities.
A constructive use of this employee type is found at Google, which has a unit called X (formerly Google X), which is a self-proclaimed moonshot factory. Employees in this unit seek to solve big problems using breakthrough technologies and radical solutions. Hence, the projects in X tend to be outside Google’s current domain and strategic focus. In such projects, it is typically impossible to realistically assess the likelihood of success before they are tried out.
Gambler. This type of project manager actively pursues business opportunities that lie within the existing strategic boundaries but have no good business case attached, as trustworthy data concerning the likelihood of success is lacking. Hence, the gambler seeks to gain organizational followers for a big bet on a growth opportunity that is consistent with the current strategy but without trustworthy quantitative evidence. In other words, gamblers play by the rules of the game as they pursue growth opportunities within the existing strategy, but they cannot predict the likelihood of success. Consequently, the gambler seeks to engage other organizational members who also like bets. This can obviously be viewed as an uncertain path, as there is some likelihood that the growth opportunities are not feasible and that they may therefore result in significant losses. However, gamblers are necessary, as they can update the existing strategy by pursuing analytically overlooked growth opportunities.
This type of project champion is documented in a study by Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, which shows that MTV’s first digitally integrated and interactive program, Top Selection, was initially tried under the radar before the project’s backers had sufficient proof of concept to get managerial approval to continue. This project was driven by gamblers, as they stayed inside the existing strategic boundaries but were unable to document the likelihood of success before the idea had been tested.
Expert. This type of project manager actively pursues business opportunities that lie outside the existing strategic boundaries but for which trustworthy data builds a solid business case. Hence, experts wish to gain organizational followers for a change in action in favor of a growth opportunity that is inconsistent with the current strategy but is supported by solid, trustworthy quantitative evidence. Consequently, experts rely on organizational members actually listening to their advice. Although the growth opportunities are well supported and should therefore be feasible, the main challenge is to make organizational members aware of the need for strategic change and of the urgent need to act in this regard. The expert is needed to challenge the existing strategy by pursuing well-supported growth opportunities that lie outside the organization’s current strategy.
Experts in action are seen in the well-known story of Intel’s transition from memory chips to microprocessors, where key employees within the organization tried to persuade Intel’s management of the value of the opportunity for some time. It took the executive team several years of internal soul-searching before they were ready to make the organizational transition. In this case, the growth opportunity was outside the existing strategy, but it was possible to document the commercial potential and the likelihood of success with some certainty.
Executor. This project manager actively pursues business opportunities that lie within the existing strategic boundaries and have great cases. The executor gains organizational followers for a sure-thing growth opportunity that is consistent with the current strategy and is backed by trustworthy quantitative evidence. In other words, there is no risk, no uncertainty, and no challenge — just a need for execution. Consequently, executors rely on organizational members to follow their rigorous analyses of a strategically embraced project. This can be viewed as the most certain path to success, as the growth opportunity is well documented and aligned with the existing strategy. However, the executor can only point to a limited number of growth opportunities that are low-hanging fruit — the executor cannot provide insights into the more radical and unknown business opportunities. Many who bear the formal title of business developer systematically analyze, prepare, and support growth opportunities that lie within the strategic boundaries and for which it is possible to realistically assess the likelihood of success.
For instance, DuPont has a systematic approach for assessing and implementing growth opportunities. It entails a phased and systematic handling of new opportunities within a disciplined framework built on best practices, providing standardized guidance throughout the process from initial concept to subsequent commercialization. A comprehensive business case is essential to initiate the process — and as the approach involves key work streams and “blocks of work” that the core team must plan and execute in an effective manner, it is particularly suitable for executors.
Read more how each interact at HBR.org
The bottom line is that the diversity of styles offers a competitive advantage in terms of business development, and all four types are necessary pieces of your organizational constellation, even though the optimal dose of each may differ. As an executive, it is crucial that you:
- Make sure you have each type within your organization
- Make room for each type to work in their own manner
- Make sense of their respective ideas, by following their respective logics
- Make time for matching projects and project managers correctly
Meeting the various types where they are, and paying attention to their diverse ways of thinking, will help you obtain the needed diversity among your employees to develop your business. Moreover, this resonates with comprehensive findings that emphasize that the hallmark of great managers is that they discover and capitalize on the unique strengths of individual employees.