A Perspective on Project Leadership and ERP Implementations

By Paul Kjer | September 1, 2017

A lot of blog ink has been consumed on the virtues of leadership over management. Nothing I have read makes me want to be a manager. Management seems like an older, boring cousin of leadership. Leadership is energetic and inspirational. Management talks too much, or worse, yells. And yet here I am, a Project Manager. Management is baked into my job title.

At least I am not alone. On Amazon today there are over 25,000 books on project management and less than 200 on project leadership. I have a PMP certification and as far as I know, there is no PLP. I could dismiss the Internet assault on management over its more attractive cousin, but some influential thinkers have weighed in on the subject and I think they are worth listening to.

In the article “Management is (Still) Not Leadership”, published in the Harvard Business Review, John P. Kotter explains:

“… management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well.”

“Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change.”

Kotter’s definition of leadership sounds a lot like a successful ERP implementation. Kotter does not sling mud at management, it is just different than leadership. With the assumption that both management and leadership are critical, it is worth considering a few areas important to ERP implementations where there seems to be consensus on the differences.

ERP Implementations: Management vs Leadership

Purpose

  • Management: Optimize vs. Leadership: Change
  • Description: ERP implementations almost always involve a great deal of change.  A common risk is the temptation to force old processes into software that does not accommodate it.

Power

  • Management: Authority vs. Leadership: Influence
  • Description: ERP project managers work across many functional areas and rarely have authority over people critical to the success of the project.

Execution

  • Management: Doing Things Right vs. Leadership: Doing the Right Things
  • Description: Doing things right is critical, but only if they are the right things.

Decisions

  • Management: Making vs. Leadership: Facilitating
  • Description: ERP project managers rarely make key decisions, but they facilitate decision making.

Horizon

  • Management: Short-Term vs. Leadership: Long-Term
  • Description: No one implements an ERP system for short-term gains.  The amount of effort and change, not to mention cost, required by an ERP implementation does not come easily.  The rewards come later.

In each of the areas above the challenges of an ERP implantation favor leadership over management. There are areas of project management too critical to be ignored. Planning and budget control, for example, are critical and can be accomplished without yelling or other boorish behavior. But leadership is essential. And although there is no PLP certification, maybe there should be.

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