“Project Management” can mean many different things. In simplistic terms it can be defined as meeting the goals/deliverables of a project within budget and on time. This column addresses some of the common challenges I encounter when coaching project managers.
Effective project management equates to many factors. The basics are good planning, risk management, organizing and managing resources. Being able to establish and manage realistic expectations for actionable follow through, clear communications and end results often equate to “best practice.” The most effective project managers (PMs) are skilled not only in making the complex simple but being able to communicate the complex in a way that is both understandable and actionable. The best can anticipate the unforeseen including potential roadblocks and obstacles. Project managers that are worth their weight in gold are those with strong problem solving, negotiation, attention to detail, adaptability and interpersonal skills that equate to successful projects and positive customer relations.
To believe every item in a complex project will flow flawlessly isn’t realistic. Given that, here are my coaching tips to help when the unexpected happens (and it will!):
- Learn from mistakes (vs. assigning blame elsewhere). A natural reaction of many project managers is to simply point a finger at either a team member or customer when things go wrong. This often negatively impacts the relationship (and future business). Instead, “debrief” the problem or situation and “mine” the learnings so you (and your team) can apply them in the future. Making mistakes the first time is one thing – what drives customers crazy (and away) is allowing the same mistakes to be made again and again.
- Expect the unexpected. Set reasonable expectations (allow time for problems). Contingency plans are important! Plan for problems and challenges. Identify “go to” resource partners for complex concerns or critical project elements. Having a good relationship with those who can help you in a jam or direct you to the right resource is important.
- Have checks and balances prior to project execution. Increase the potential for accuracy, particularly for critical information on projects. Establish a process to ensure another set of eyes (or multiple sets) that will provide review and authorization on detail items that have big consequences (this will also help you sleep better at night!) Examples of critical items include calculations, IP configurations, published contact information and security reviews/approvals.
- Be willing to negotiate with customers and vendor partners when things go wrong. Keep your customers out of trouble if you want future business- there is frequently shared responsibility for mistakes that do happen. Being flexible, admitting fault and “splitting the difference” can often mean saving an important customer or future partner relationships.
- Identify and have access to key sponsors in the customer system. If you are having trouble getting response, compliance or action required for the project to be successful, make sure the communication is coming from the right person in the system with the necessary authority and power to get action. Consultants and change agents take note– communications to resolve these issues ideally should come from the sponsors directly, particularly if getting action becomes problematic.
- Stay positive and cool. You losing your head when things go awry won’t help. In times of crisis people will gravitate and likely respond positively to those who display confidence and competence. Focus on finding opportunities and thinking creatively while keeping calm.
- Keep the end goal, and the relationship, in mind. Yes, achieving the end result is important but so is how you got there. It’s the people end of the project management equation that often trip up project managers. How you respond in times of crisis and dealt with others will be remembered long after the project is finished.