In today’s dynamic and competitive world, a project manager’s key challenge is coping with frequent
unexpected events. Such events can be classified according to their level of predictability as follows:
events that were anticipated but whose impacts were much stronger than expected; events that could
not have been predicted; and events that could have been predicted but were not. Coping with frequent
unexpected events requires an organizational culture that allows the project manager to exercise a great
amount of flexibility.
The traditional approach to project management emphasizes that project success depends on stability.
According to this approach, project success can be achieved by focusing on planning and on controlling
and managing risks. Although the popularity of this approach has sharply increased across industries,
research covering a wide variety of projects consistently reveals poor performance.
The authors collected data from more than 150 successful project managers affiliated with more than
20 organizations and concluded that today’s successful project managers cope with unexpected events
by a combination of traditional and “agile” approaches to project management. Using business examples
drawn from their research at organizations such as Procter & Gamble, NASA and the construction services company Boldt, the authors identified four key roles that successful project managers play:
•The first role, developing collaboration, is performed early on during the project.
• The second role, integrating planning and review with learning, is performed periodically throughout
•The third role, preventing major disruptions, is performed occasionally.
•The fourth role, maintaining forward momentum, is performed continuously.
Today’s managers must be people-oriented, information-oriented and action-oriented. The authors
argue that by assuming the four roles discussed in this article, successful project managers will embrace
all three orientations.