Project managers, team members, and other stakeholders have disagreements, some heated, some not. What’s important is how you respond to project conflicts? Conflicts can be beneficial if handled in an open, transparent manner.
Successful project managers do not run away from conflict; they run toward it. They call it out by name in a neutral and unoffending manner. And they quickly engage the appropriate stakeholders in order to discuss and resolve the issues.
Furthermore, the best project managers are risk managers constantly mitigating conflicts. How? First, these leaders communicate well—they tell the team where they are going, how they will get there, and when things will occur. Second, they clarify goals, priorities, and requirements. Third, these project managers work with their teams to break down the project and make activity assignments clear.
What does it take to facilitate a successful project launch? Let’s look at two scenarios, one that results in potential failure and one destined for success.
The Wonder Wheels Company assigned Tom Dooley to manage a high-profile project, a project critical to the achievement of the company’s annual goals. Jane Johnson, a senior leader and the project sponsor, called Tom to her office, handed him a few memos and described the project deliverables. Coldly staring at Tom, Mrs. Johnson gave him the deadline—six months; this was a do-or-die situation.
Tom immediately called a team meeting to discuss a quick development of the requirements backlog. He urged the designers to start the first-sprint design work as soon as possible. Tom planned to use every trick in the book—crashing, fast-tracking, sprinting, and late nights (even though he knew it would put stress on his family life).
Fast forward two months. Droopy-eyed Tom facilitated a stand-up meeting with his project team and discovered that the team would be unable to complete the second sprint on schedule. The team members were fuming about the lack of clarity in the project resulting in scope creep, rework, missed deadlines, and budget issues. To make things worse, the top developer resigned the previous week.
All Tom Dooley could do was hang his head and cry. He knew his career was about to die (okay, humor me).
Elements of a Successful Project Launch
Most project managers have endured challenging situations like this. What’s a project manager to do? How can we start a project successfully, even when there is immense pressure to execute immediately?
People grow tired of working for unappreciative organizations. If it goes on long enough, the top performers get frustrated and leave. Therefore, it’s important to develop a culture of appreciation.
But rewards and recognition can be tricky. People are motivated in different ways. John may be thrilled by his challenging project work and the opportunity to learn something new. On the other hand, Susan is supercharged by gestures of appreciation—public recognition or a simple thank-you card.
Furthermore, many project managers don’t have the budget for doing much. How can we create a recognition and rewards program that shows our appreciation and motivates our team, sometimes with limited means?
Ever watched what happens when a new team is formed? Maybe you’ve seen a new team of little league baseball players, a music group, a civic group, or a business team. The initial dynamics can be rather rocky and uncertain, even with skilled individuals.
Imagine a new project team that was formed to consolidate customer service centers from 20 locations across the United States to five regional locations. The goal for Phase 1 of the project was the consolidate four centers in the Southeast to the Atlanta Customer Service Center. Here were some of the attributes of the team:
Resources were preassigned
Eight people comprised the core team
Each team member lived in a different city
Ages ranged from 28 to 62
Four of the team members have worked on several projects together in the past
Two members have never been on a project team
If you were the project manager, how would you assess the team? What steps would you take to develop the team? How would you help the team move through the team stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing more quickly?
Are you feeling stuck? If so, let’s talk about getting unstuck and moving again.
With all that we have to do, we can’t afford to stay in one place too long. Somehow, we must keep things moving forward. Otherwise, there will be consequences—missed deadlines, unhappy stakeholders, demoralized team members, and ultimately adverse impacts to the company’s bottom line.
So, why do project managers get stuck in the first place? There are several reasons. First, it’s analysis paralysis. We get stuck in over-analyzing (or over-thinking) things such as requirements. Second, it’s fear. We are afraid that we will make a mistake. Third, it’s perfectionism—the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. We mean well, but this mindset is a toxic trap that hinders our progress as we seek the approval of others. Fourth, it’s poor decision making. The project team has identified multiple options for solving the problem, but can’t seem to pick one.
Do you really care about your people? I mean really.
I have to admit there have been times in my project management career when I cared more about the project than the people. After all, I was under a lot of pressure to deliver the project come hell or high water. And my reputation and career were on the line.
When I think back, I’m not proud of how I handled some situations. I said and did some things that caused others harm. Nothing unethical; just ungracious, unkind, and uncaring.
Can you relate?
Care For Your People First
The Story of William Osler
In his book—The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader— John Maxwell shared a story about William Osler, a doctor, university professor, and author who practiced medicine. Osler once wrote:
Discover Practical Ways to Build Trust in Your Teams
Team values drive the team’s behavior and actions. If the team values efficiency, individuals will look for ways to get greater results with less effort. Project managers who value communication seek to improve understanding between stakeholders.
Many individuals assume that all the team members have similar values. While everyone may agree on project goals, they may not agree on the same path to success.
Does everyone value respect, trust, and encouragement in their day-to-day interactions? Team members will be more productive when they encourage one another and when project managers express appreciation.
Project managers rarely discuss values. Why? Because they see values as fluff. Teams are under pressure to execute and deliver. Project managers may not feel that they have time to clarify values.
So, how can we engage our team members and have a meaningful discussion on values?
Project managers can create a team constitution when initiating projects. What is a team constitution? It is a list of shared values. As the team creates the constitution, ask team members to reflect on previous projects. Ask them to identify desired attitudes and behaviors.
Unity is strength…when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved. -American poet Mattie Stepanek