Category: What to expect

What to Do When the Project Sponsor Says No

Here it is! The product of your sleepless nights – a shiny new project proposal. You love it. You cherish it. You think it’s “the one and only” and that others will share your enthusiasm and love of it. And then the project’s sponsor says “No”. It comes as a thunder in a sunny Summer day. Or, you start getting hints that it will not be approved and that other options might need to be considered. Here are some of the options I noticed project managers taking:

Option A. The project manager will push for it and bring in all the heavy artillery he/she has in arsenal. Sometimes, the risks and benefits are weighted.

Option B. The project manager drops it. He/she goes home or to a bar and drowns the bitterness of disappointment in a glass or two of something bitter. Or he /she puts the pic of the sponsor on the wall and throws darts at it. Or chooses other harmless ways of dealing with the feelings.

Option C. The project manager repositions and starts seeing what the sponsor sees. He/she then realigns the proposal and reconsiders the timing. Usually, a resubmission follows.

Option D. The project manager goes to another sponsor. And it is usually cap in hand, if he/she firmly believes in the project idea. It is mynkind of option: If i am on a dead end road it does not mean someone else does not have a helicopter to pick up the load.

Each option warrants careful consideration in terms of costs of taking the No as an answer from financial to reputational aspects in each particular case.

Accepting a No can be hard. Moving beyond a No can be harder. Your choice and living with the consequences of it depends on your values and the importance you, as a project manager, attach to your ideas and the professional relation you have with the project beneficiary. At the end of the day, it is them who pay for the lost opportunity or benefit from you not taking No as an answer.

This is what my kid did when i said No to a Lego number one hundred something. I am inspired.

Do you take No as an answer?

***

Inspired by “What to Do When Your Boss Says No” by Scott Sonenshein, February 06, 2017, Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/02/what-to-do-when-your-boss-says-no?utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social

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What to expect: at your first team meeting

A first meeting can be a trip into unchartered waters. Thankfully, a lot of research helps with tips. Here are some of them and one of my first meetings, as a exemplification.

So, you put your best outfit and your smile on and you enter the meeting room. Tadam! No applauses? Indeed a suit and a smile help for a good first impression. And there is more. It is well-known that it takes seven seconds to make a first impression.  In seven seconds your suit, smile, handshake, gestures, facial expression, eye contact, posture and tone of the voice will all be screened and assessed. So better get ready.

Showcasting in the privacy of your home before the meeting helps prepare. Use a large mirror. Or call in a pair of friendly eyes and ears. Rehearse your introduction, work on its content. But equally, if not more, it is important to be aware of our non-verbal communication.  UCLA research has shown that only 7% of communication is based on the actual words we say. As for the rest, 38% comes from tone of voice and the remaining 55% comes from body language. Our gestures, facial expression, eye contact, posture and tone of voice speak louder than words and suits. The trick with the body language is that you cannot fake it. The good news is that awareness about how you use your body to speak can be developed. In time, with practice and patience.  stock-photo-colleagues-at-an-office-meeting-275789651

Of the many first team meetings i had as a project manager, here is a story, which shows how vulnerabilities and strengths may show at a first meeting with the team.

The team was there for 2,5 years already and they knew each other well enough. The portfolio manager wanted to introduce me to the project team even before i signed the contract. She was eager to give them the assurance that after three project managers in five months, things will take a stable course. It gives a clue about the environment I was about to start in.

So there I was, in my suit, with a smile and a soft lady-like handshake. My soft lady like handshake assured the men in the team that there is no “threat”. It created though a sense of competition among the female members. I was to learn about it in the coming weeks.

To present my credentials, the portfolio manager gave them the details of my past experience. Complementary, i highlighted experiences team members and I had in common. My years in consultancy, for instance. My shoulders, while speaking about it, was read as a sign of confidence in my ability to steer the pluri-disciplinary project by some and as a predictor of a potentially more demanding reporting line by others. The latter made me work harder on my collaborative and persuasive skills.

A round table sitting allowed for a good eye contact. I could move my eyes around to make sure each and everyone feels included. With the exception of a couple of looking-down pairs of eyes. Which brings me to the other side of the first meeting: it is also an opportunity for you to watch and learn. The couple of looking-down eyes, for example, was a post-it for me for where more attention will need to be devoted.

Depending on the stage if the project, at the first meeting with the project team, you may need to get down to the planning business or agree on one-to-one follow-up meetings to learn more and then plan.

As a cliche as it may sound, prepare and plan your first meeting for good first impressions to the extent you can. The number and quality of follow-up meetings may depend on it.

What to expect: when you have to manage a team of seniours

– I want to dye your hair! My hairdresser is relentless.

– No. Not yet.

– Why?

– i am managing a project where 20% could be my parents, 70% – my uncles and aunts and 10% – my older brothers.

– and? She is still relentless.

– i conquer them with my grey hair!

She gave up.

Couple of months later, an external monitor hired by the project’s sponsor, knocked at the door.

Guess what was his first question from the long list of efficiency, effectiveness, sustainability, cross-cutting issues? “You are much younger than the project’s consultants. How do you make them listen? ”

– It’s not about age, it’s about experience and mutual respect, my grey hair answered.

These were the ingredients I discovered on my journey with a seniors team:

Ingredient one: listen.

I was the one on the listening end. Most of the time. Better even if you can actively listen.

Ingredient two: acknowledgment.

Listening led to a simple acknowledgement: I am younger. Their experience in all their fields of expertise exceeds mine by numbers and value.

Ingredient three: borders.

We agreed on borderlines: I know a thing-or-two about project management; they know one hundred-or-two about the fields they are experts in.

Ingredient four: assertiveness.

Listening, acknowledging, borderlines led to assertiveness. “You are assertive. I have to give you that” coming from a senior customs officer working around the world was a feedback I trusted. Assertiveness offers a great anchor. Especially when borders are crossed and a patronising tone wants to make an entrance (from both sides). It’s tough, but manageable. The benefits are higher and long-lasting when you stay calm and positive.

Ingredient five: blame it on my youth

When nothing seemed to work, I would shrug my shoulders. “What do I know?!”. And it would be them convincing me of the opposite 😉

 

What to expect: when taking over a project run by a colleague-friend

I have to say that I was never in such a situation. I witnessed a few such cases though in different work environments. Each case was pretty  specific, yet some general patterns were there. Here is Rosalia’s case: a young professional who was given responsibility beyond her experience, with the “bonus” of her work friendship at test.

Rosalia was booming when, upon return from a long vacation, she took over the project’s files.  She found out that she will be given this project two months ago.  Her best friend and colleague, Michael, left for another job in another country. Rosalia was very enthusiastic at first. She idealised her friend and everything he did so her usually active critical sense was put to sleep. Two months later she paid dearly with her health. Her joy soon turned into a depression fueled by a stream of difficulties. A surprise kept popping up after another. A consultant was paid for a product of unacceptable quality. A statutory evaluation was skipped with no explanations in the file. There were no contacts established with the project donor and the project was on its final stage. Large amounts of budget remained unpaid and the budget lines were guarded rigidly by the sponsor.

Could at least some of these have been prevented by knowing what to expect and preparing to act? A proper hand-over, to start with, would have given Rosalia a clear status quo. She did not  want to ask her friend any questions of fear to be perceived as challenging his authority. If you find yourself in such a situation, there a few strategies which you could try.

First, ask for a tri-lateral meeting with the departing project manager and your supervisor. It can be over coffee or another less formal set-up.  Follow-up the meeting with a note and send it to both to get confirmation on what you were told. It will give you a baseline and your friend will not feel as reporting to you.

Time permitting, organise a joint introductory meeting / a conference call (in case of teams located in different places), where both you and the departing project manager could participate. Follow the meeting with minutes circulated to all concerned.

Agree with your departing predecessor for how long and on what you estimate to still be needing to get back to him/her with questions you might have.

While friendships come in different forms and many complexities might arise, some of the above might allow to set the boundaries between personal and professional relations so that you can continue your friendship unaffected, to the extent you can. Sometimes you’ll have to choose. Sometimes you’ll have to compromise. It’s important not to compromise your professionalism though. A true friend will not ask you this.