As you likely know, I am a big fan and practitioner of combining project and change disciplines with business acumen in daily life as a project and change advisor, teacher, and coach.
To be truly effective, especially if you are to succeed in uncertain business and professional times, you need to take as complete and wholistic a view of what you need to do in your day job to then be able to deliver it well and succeed.
If you are tasked with delivering something large, as I was, for instance, when leading a $225 million asset transfer due to Brexit in the UK, you need more than what I call a ‘purist’ project management skill set to get a big or complex or high profile job done effectively and successfully, (as perceived by all key stakeholders) especially when uncertainty abounds (and it always does), especially now.
You may also be interested to read about the one thing that can set a project up for success or failure and how to do your bit, so your company leans into setting projects up for success. You may like to read about the number one thing that breaks projects (and is likely in your control) here.
So, I am a big advocate for you to learn beyond the purist technical project management training realm. That is beyond gaining a project certificate. Don’t get me wrong—some form of basic project management training is important but this is really only the entry level to becoming truly capable, confident, and ultimately successful at delivering complexity within the frame of ongoing business uncertainty.
I call what we should aim for to be at the top of our game as professionals project savviness. Project savviness is important regardless of having the name project in your role title or not. Project savviness is something most if not all of your organisation should possess.
Adding project experience (hands on) is an important feather in the cap toward developing project savviness, but this again, on its own, is still not enough. Not if you want to be considered capable and be able to deliver, for instance, monster project leadership and thrive successfully in uncertain times.
To demonstrate and truly be project savvy, you need to add two more pieces. These are basic behavioural science principles and business acumen.
3 Disciplines You Need To Be Confident And Project Savvy
To confirm, the three disciplines you need to be confident and project savvy are:
Project Management Structures and Approaches – briefly discussed above. These form what I call the technical backbone of your expertise and savviness. An important skill set but only an entry ticket to play not necessarily a seat at the top table yet.
Basic Behavioural Science Principles – that is knowing how to effectively engage, motivate, influence, and negotiate with all stakeholders (many and varied). This is a true skill and requires savviness in approach and delivery.
Business Acumen – being effective at problem solving, decision making, leadership, strategic thinking, and being commercially aware of what’s going on around you (i.e., understanding how your company business and industry operate and how they make money) and then being able to apply and use these skills is an artform—but one that can be taught effectively and quickly if the teacher is informed by experience as well.
So, in total you need three disciplines rolled into one if you want to be ahead of the curve and be considered savvy enough to be able to run anything complex, large, high profile, and important particularly given the ever-increasing presence of uncertainty in our work and business environments today.
Each of these disciplines provides the level of sophistication and solid foundation to be able to truly run and lead a big, complex piece of work or project. I call these skills the savviness glue skills. Without them, you will only be 2/3 of the way to being considered (and actually being) a capable professional.
Remember learning is not enough; you need experience in each of these project savviness disciplines—project management structures and approaches, basic behavioural science principles, and business acumen—so you can recognise when each is necessary on the ground in your day job as well as knowing how to implement each effectively.
This takes some practice but guided by an experienced capable practitioner you can slash the time needed to get up to speed. This is as much about being shown what to do and how to do something as it is about capability, structures, and knowledge.
Over my 25 years as a business management consultant and senior project leader, I have been privileged to train, coach, work in, and consult with many organisations, teams, and professionals including on the topic of project savviness and how to acquire it.
The best way to learn is from someone who has real hands-on experience. Otherwise, you will continue to be stuck in theory and forced to learn the hard way which wastes so much time. Theory has its place but on its own will not serve you if you seek to be at the top of your game in uncertain times.
I encourage you to seek out colleagues and opportunities to learn the three disciplines that make up project savviness. Find someone inside or outside your organisation to learn from fast as this will accelerate not only your confidence but also your career opportunities and ultimate success.
Good luck! Let me know about your successes in pursuit of project savviness.
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