You have your project plan approved. It was a tough job to get to it. You finally have it nice and shiny on your dashboard and want to proceed according to plan. That might not be your client/stakeholder’s reality though. They might think that the plan is a thing of the past and after their morning coffee (or last night drink) they have new bright ideas about the product they want. And they will share it by email, sms, whatsapp, skype and whatever apps they have on their phone. Hello, roller coaster of ideas!
No panic, as my swimming instructor says. There are a couple of strategies you can make use of. Make sure your client does not read this.
- Use you empathy and knowledge of human nature. Most likely, your client/stakeholder is a creative type and you are an action-oriented person (as most project managers). Use this cognitive diversity to the advantage of the project and to enrich the relationship with the client.
- Do an inventory to see which ideas require actual actions. Some people are just happy to share their ideas. You might discover that some are visions or lighthouses. Use them in visuals. In full transparency, share your plans for ideas which are for immediate follow-up and which can be parked.
- If your client/stakeholder is restless, then you might need to equip yourself with an expectations management strategy. There are a variety you can employ: explain the time commitment on the team and project – would implementing the new idea require team members to put aside the tasks they are committed to already? would any other new resources be required? etc. Depending on the mind-set of the originator of the idea, they might buy into the ‘costs argument’ .
- Remember that the project’s plan is your anchor and reference point. It is a documented list of current and foreseen priorities. If the priorities keep changing, it is likely that a new steering committee of the project will need to be called upon to discuss and agree on which priorities are for the project to keep.
Working with a client who is a fountain of new ideas can be stimulating. It can also be frustrating or draining. By applying these strategies you can enhance your ability to leverage ideas into workable solutions and keep the sanity of your mind.
No matter their lifespan, projects need people to trust each other. I agree with Simon Sinek: “Trust emerges when we have a sense that another person or organisation is driven by things other than their personal gain”.
Members of a project team – be it a NASA project or a local community street cleaning project – need to trust each other. And trust is a feeling. It can be individual or shared. It comes from
– knowing that someone has your back,
– believing that your team mates will deliver on time their part and that you’ll take it from there and move it forward.
– being certain that they will show up.
– having faith that they will tell you in good faith when you make a mistake.
Trust comes slowly and evaporates in the blink of an eye.
Does it mean that when there is trust between members of the team, there is no conflict? Not at all. Pat Lencioni answers it well: “When there is trust, conflict is nothing but the pursuit of truth. Without trust, conflict is just politics”. And no one well-meaning wants politics in projects.