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CASH IS KING
Expect a new emphasis on projects that keep the money flowing.
BY BUD BAKER, Ph.D., CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
What might a global economic crisis
mean to me as a project manager?
Some see e-mail as an annoyance. Not
me: I have always gotten a kick out of my
e-mail inbox, filled with generous offers from
caring souls who want to improve my life. Some, who
must know that I can be a bit lax about schedules,
want to help by selling me their Rolexes—and for
only US$10. Other kind folks try to help by making
some parts of me smaller and other parts larger, if I’ll
only send them my credit card number. And I can
count on regularly receiving a chance to help the family
of some regrettably slain dictator smuggle out their
hard-earned cash—once I put up some financial
evidence of my own good faith, of course.
Lately, though, my inbox hasn’t been as much fun.
Instead of fake watches, phony pharmaceuticals and
even sillier swindlers, I’m faced with an increasing
number of résumés from skilled, experienced project
managers looking for work. Some are former students,
others are past and present colleagues. They cut across
industries and ranks, from the newest trainees to executive
vice presidents. As far as I can see, they have only one
thing in common: They are all victims of circumstance.
I write these words 90 days before you read them,
which adds a certain element of risk to this forum. It’s possible that by the time you read this, the world economy
will be back on its feet, humming along with projects of
every sort. It is equally possible that my project manager
friends will be back at work and my e-mail back to normal.
But just in case it’s not, it’s worth considering how the current
economic crisis might affect project management.
The ramifications of the switch to
short-term preservation of cash is huge.
By their very nature, most projects
use money today to bring long-term
benefits to the firm in the future.
Maybe Money Is Everything
Beginning around September or October of 2008—
earlier for well-run firms, a little later for others—an
enormous but little-publicized change took place in
executive suites around the world. As the economic
downturn loomed larger, organizational priorities shifted.
Rather than emphasizing revenue growth, market share
and net profit—as had been the case as far back as anyone
could remember—companies (and not-for-profits as
well) switched their focus to just one thing: cash.
Anything that conserved cash was to be sought, and anything
that used cash was to be shunned. Long-term thinking took
a back seat to the short-term preservation of cash as organizations rediscovered a long-underemphasized reality:
Businesses don’t fail for lack of profit nearly as quickly as
they do for lack of cash.
For project managers, the ramifications of this are
huge. By their very nature, most projects use money today
to bring long-term benefits to the firm in the future. With
this in mind, I shouldn’t be surprised to see so many project
manager résumés in my mailbox. The real surprise is that
there haven’t been even more.