For many project managers, the primary intent of a project management plan is to hedge our bets against assumed tendencies of teams to shirk their roles and responsibilities. Akin to a contract with our team members, these plans often spell out in varying levels of detail the various duties and expectations of each individual (or groups) within the team with respect to various milestones and tasks. While well intended from a communications and alignment standpoint, these plans, too often can be used as accountability weapons when deliverables are fail to meet expectations or said duties “appear” to have been shirked.
Now, I am not here to dispel the value in a well thought out and well conveyed project management plan. Part of insuring that each team member has clear expectations and vice versa includes the process of drafting such roles into words and discussing these words with your team. However, this is merely a tool; a best practice; a suggestion; a GUIDE. You are guaranteed to have to deviate from it at one point in the project or another. The team really truly has its successful origins in a trusting environment and ultimately a trusting relationship.
That trusting environment is established first by YOU; the PM. How do you convey the critical information contained within the communications and management plan related to everyone’s roles? By first appealing to their experience and by openly assuming that they have an earnest desire to do well and help the team succeed. You can leave all the consequences out of the Kickoff Meeting. You should assume that everyone wants to do a great job and build on that assumption with enthusiasm yourself followed by a clear guide for communication and roles & responsibilities.
Lay the foundation for a trusting relationship with your team and you will be well rewarded!
As Project Managers, many of us are well studied in the principles of managing a project. From planning to initiating, to executing, to closeout our roles are often well defined and through these processes, so are the roles of the members of our teams. The crossover skill of great project managers that this blog will flirt with from time to time is that of Motivation or Leadership. The best laid plans in the world can’t make up for an under motivated team who has little interest in succeeding or worse, has interest in seeing you fail.
As a part of every project management plan, you may choose to implement a number of processes or checks and balances which will allow you to hold yourself and your team accountable for deliverables, schedules, and quality. These milestones or checks and balances will come with consequences ranging from a look of disappointment to some manner of compensation or demerit which typically is a function of your organization’s structure and the autonomy provided each PM and project team member.
Before we get too far along into detailed discussions of what is appropriate for in-meeting spotlighting of a failing team member and when the finger pointing often begins, I wanted to bring the focus back to where it all must originate; the PM themselves. By far, the most powerful motivational tool I have used as specifically a PM (not a supervisor or mentor) but as a stand-alone member to a team of similar stand-alone professionals is twofold: lead by example & believe in your team members’ innate desire to succeed themselves. I intend to explore the specific tools PM’s can and should engage with their teams to manage the expectations and consequences of individual performance, but first I want each of you to look within yourselves and make sure you are setting the example for each of your teams to follow.
Through your own performance, your own outlook, and most importantly your overall just approach, the team will be inspired and innately motivated to trust and help you to succeed. That’s the foundation. Then it gets really fun! Are you laying a solid foundation for your project teams’ success?
Little pleases me more than a successful brainstorming session or meeting where problems were presented, and attacked from all angles. Without commitment to a single solution or approach, a team collectively asks themselves “why” or “how” until the solution, previously invisible, materializes in a brilliant culmination of creativity and critical thinking. Little frustrates me more than hitting that time / patience threshold without that epiphany; or worse yet, remaining stuck in the brainstorming mode, stuck in the WHY loop and missing the best solution you are going to find.
So much of project management involves reaching that delicate balance between deadline enforcement and true creative license. How long can we search for that miracle alternative that meets 5 out of our 5 constraints. The cold hard fact in project management is that there has to be boundaries. For my own sanity, we will call them interim boundaries; but we are in the business of getting things done, right? I know, you won’t hear me say it often, but you do need to know when to say when; or, as may be the case, when NOT to ask WHY.
This is not as easy as setting the oven timer and so many project managers struggle to keep just the right amount of slack in the reins. Let your team run. Knock down all the walls and limits once in a while just to let them stretch their creative legs. But you must bring them back slowly while trying to keep that creative spirit in the room. The liberation of a brainstorming session can be intoxicating and the team member who has 10 times as many questions as answers can be as counterproductive as the team member who says no 10 times as often as they say yes. Often times they will appreciate being let run free for a time and will be more receptive to the constraints when you bring them back to reality. They work with constraints all day every day and need to come up for air once in a while.
But don’t lose your grasp on the end goals. You are the leader and you will need to learn when to sense the WHY loop engaging and when to pull back on those reins just a bit. Never stop pushing those boundaries and don’t you dare stifle your team; but when is it time NOT to ask WHY?
As project management enthusiasts for one reason or another, you are likely well-schooled in the merits of an excellent PLAN. You name it, change management, risk management, communications, etc. there is an important value in leading a team through a detailed and well thought out plan of action. What the formal project management lessons I have been exposed to have failed to include or at least, undervalued, was the importance of that plan being a living document. That is, your plan might not be the right plan!
We have all been a part of a failed plan which couldn’t get out of its own way. Conversely, we have all been a part of a failed project due to a complete lack of a plan. So how does the project manager approach a project with that well thought out plan; and execute it, while leaving that door open for the very realistic possibility that they were wrong? For me, it’s all in the presentation. You need your team to support the plan 100% percent, but not many teams are ready willing and able to draft the plan for you. If it’s their plan, they will support it, but it has to start with you. Presenting that plan as your best IDEA will introduce your plan as merely a draft for their input and will frequently offer the level of involvement that teams desire in order to offer their endorsement.
There is a fine line as a project manager between allowing a team to guide itself (often circling themselves right back to where they came from), and drawing that hard, dictator-esque line in order to reach those unreasonable goals that no team will ever support. Many sources will expand on the need to engender trust from your teams and to earn that trust. For me it starts with admitting that I have merely some really good ideas and rarely, if ever, THE PLAN. If as an individual I purport to remain in search of constant improvement, than as a project manager, I look for that improvement in myself and in my teams to come from my most valuable and frequent contacts. The team itself. Present yourself and the plan confidently, yet always with that opportunity for improvement and you will not only find success, but your plan will be improved without anyone really realizing how it became so successful.
Where has the most unsuspected source of your success in project management come from?
Everyone knows the young (and not so young) PM out there with the extra hard-charging, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer style. Do these folks get results? Sure. But at what cost?
In this blog I am going to explore this balance. The balance between breaking the rules… and bending them. Whatever your constraints, they likely weren’t created just for the sheer joy of frustrating you. These are frequently legitimate lines drawn after years of experience or monumental failures meant to produce a quality product (or at least avoid a repeat disaster). But often, after years of such wisdom accumulation, we find ourselves so strangled in red tape and steeped in process that we yearn to bust loose and break all the rules!
Today, and for the foreseeable future I am going explore with you where I have seen these lines drawn, where I have cut through the red tape, how that has lead me to great successes, some hard lessons learned, and how I hope to re-write some Project Management rules in the future.
At the end of each day, I want you to each be able to feel like you succeeded. Even in the smallest milestones, we can find victories. When roadblocks appear at every turn, I want to explore the use of a completely new road rather than that stick of dynamite to clear the way. This isn’t about taking one step forward and two steps back either. It’s going to be about consistent questioning, constant improvement and a healthy respect for doing a quality job.
Please notice I said, “doing a quality job.” I did not say “doing things the right way.” I’m looking forward to finding the most efficient solutions when there are many, most effective solutions when there appears to be only one, and the improbable solutions when even one appears to be impossible.