The following post was written by one of our employee’s (Chris Hall) and provides his take on this issue. Thanks Chris!
I recently came across this article, which really got me thinking… When external or unanticipated factors present challenges to finishing the project, teams must decide what action to take.What corrective action should be applied right away to hopefully make the biggest positive impact for the project? Also, what actions should be applied towards long-term delivery approaches to hopefully not find your team in the same position again further down the line? Everyone needs to accept where they are and how they got there, and commit to tackling both challenges.
This probably comes as no surprise, but I’ve actually never saved a project on my own, single-handedly. As a PM, my role is to plan and execute projects, but like most PMs, I definitely have teammates and yes, even multiple bosses. PMs manage the projects, but is it our responsibility to manage external factors? This is what bosses are for! When an external factors pose challenges to delivering a project on time and under budget, bosses at the program and portfolio level should promptly be informed. Many will also want to be briefed on the issue and then will even dictate the level of involvement they wish to take on going forward. The PM shouldn’t be expected to manage those external factors, but it is our responsibility to ANTICIPATE external factors as best we can, and communicate them to leadership as soon as possible. These leaders will most likely be anticipating several other potential factors that may have never even occurred to the project teams. They will also likely want to very tightly control just what messaging is delivered to stakeholders about changes to the plan, and how they receive such information. In some situations, there may even be legal implications to be considered.
I try to set aside time to examine my projects from alternative perspectives in order to better anticipate what could impact my projects that I might not currently be managing to. Sometimes this helps me identify risks, other times I discover opportunities to make improvements in quality. Anticipation will only get you so far though. Simply identifying potential factors impacting delivery does not give you the experience you need to know what action is the most appropriate to take. This is when the PM should use a Decision Brief to inform the next level of management about what he or she has identified, and present possible actions to be taken. Many executives will say “Don’t bring me a problem without also bringing me a solution.” This is what they are looking for. The options you present should be fully vetted, including several pros and cons for each, and any risk mitigation steps that have already been taken. The executives may simply ‘approve’ your suggestion or they may wipe it out completely presenting a new way forward. But once that decision has been made, everyone should be back on the right track, or at least the same track.
So now that you’ve proposed an alternative plan and gotten the whole team on board with it, how do you avoid ended up right back where you started the next time around? The first article I linked listed several great suggestions but my favorite is this one about eliminating the ‘Kill the Messenger’ mentality.
At every significant milestone review, give explicit permission to team members to reveal negative information. Through your words, actions and facial impressions, encourage people to be realistic about schedules and risks. Never punish the delivery boy for bad news, and don’t promote “yes men”or used-car-salesman behavior.
I think a sound principle is that everyone on a team should be dedicated to improving things. This almost always involves fixing broken processes, gaining effectiveness or efficiency, and maximizing quality. If you can’t come up with suggestions to accomplish any one of these on your project, you probably aren’t trying hard enough. This isn’t me giving you carte blanche to just go out and become the Debbie Downer of the office though. This type of culture has to be embraced from the very top. For now, hold on to those suggestions for formalized “lessons learned” or brown-bag lunches, and keep a positive attitude about the concerns you may have. It helps to remind everyone that we’re all team players in this together.