You Don’t Need A Steve Jobs, But You DO Need Project Leadership

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The Apple co-founder is often hailed as a computer visionary, which he certainly was. But he made his greatest contribution to his company by simply being in charge.

At Arrayent, we work with many different companies. As a result, we’ve acquired our share of experience watching them as they tackle new product designs. Most of the time, things work out, and the product reaches the marketplace more or less as everyone planned.

But too often, a development project stalls out before reaching fruition. Hardware engineering might finish a prototype, but the smart phone application developer wasn’t informed of firmware changes. Or, the contract manager is using the out of date firmware, or lacks skills to do RF testing. The company has put in a lot of resources, but has nothing to show for it.

There are many possible explanations for these hiccups. At Arrayent, we’ve come up with a theory that accounts for all of them. Our conclusion is that projects stall when they lack a “Steve Jobs.”

The move towards intelligent devices and connected customers — the heart of Arrayent’s mission — can be a difficult one for many companies to make, because it requires them to think about old and familiar products in entirely new and unfamiliar ways. Which is all the more reason that a project needs a strong leader: to be its champion, to preserve its momentum and to be the final arbiter in the inevitable intramural disputes that new and potentially disruptive projects engender inside the companies making them.

That’s what our “Steve Jobs” project leader does. In other word, we aren’t talking about a design genius; those, after all, don’t come around all that often. And we certainly aren’t talking about a moody, mercurial authority figure who humiliates subordinates into submission.

Instead, we are talking about a person with unambiguous authority over a project; a person who can, after listening to the wise counsel of his advisors, set out a battle plan and then insist that everyone do their best to carry it out.
It may seem like we’re simply talking about “a boss.” But a company can have plenty of bosses without having an actual leader. That’s what we tend to see when projects to take longer than they need. Different teams working listlessly with no real coordination, often at odds with each other over basic questions, like how the new product needs to fit in with the company’s current offering. At the last minute, some C-suite executive might step in force the issue, but that’s hardly the optimal way of doing business.

Faded jeans and black turtlenecks aren’t necessary. Leadership and decisiveness are.