Tag: troubled projects
“No” – the project manager’s best friend?
I remember my first change request: “We need the center to host 150 people, 50 more than initially planned, which means building one extra wing.” That would have increased the budget by 30%. It was unrealistic, given the budget cycle. I had to ask another colleague from the regional coordination to say “No”. Then I came across Peter Taylor’s book ““The project manager who smiled” where I read: “The most valuable and least used word in a project manager’s vocabulary is ‘No’.
Project managers get often requests like: “We want these new features to the product. And by the way, why doesn’t the software have these new reporting tools we just adopted?!” or “We liked the study visit. We would like to go on one more by the end of the year.”
These are not Christmas letters to Santa. Yet, it is pretty close. In the course of project implementation, beneficiaries tend to try to get more than initially planned. And it’s normal for them to try, for different reasons. I usually do not questions their motives. Not my job. My project manager’s job is to give them what we agreed, when we agreed and for the budget we agreed, without jeopardising the expected quality.
Because the project manager is not Santa, it’s ok to say “No”. There are a number of ways to say “No” by considering the repercussions on the project and ultimately the beneficiary. The most important part is to have the beneficiary understand why the project manager says “No”. Reference to facts or similar past experience may support the understanding of pragmatic beneficiaries. One approach is to show what would happen if “yes” would be the answer.
Let’s take one of the wishes from the above list. “Yes” to an extra wing would mean delayed opening of the temporary detention centre (due to reopening of the construction authorisation procedure etc.) and increased risks of revolt at the current facilities, which hold 100 people in less than acceptable conditions. Data shows that over the last three years the number of incomers is stable and the documents processing rates have improved. Therefore, the centre’s capacity is aligned with the demand. It worked in a project I managed years ago with a data-adept beneficiary.
When the beneficiary is guided by emotional or more personal motives, he/she may not hear /want to hear a reasoned “No”. The costs of “No” can be also high. For example, it asks to choose a certain consultant/service provider. A “No”, even if demonstrated by strictly adhered to procurement procedures and open competition rules, can have the beneficiary complain to the project sponsor and/or lead to the rejection to work with the chosen consultant/service provider. Each project is different and each beneficiary’s powers are context specific, so careful consideration is warranted. What I found important in such situations is to be as open and transparent about these kind of requests with all concerned. It cost me once a friendship, but then it was not perhaps the kind of friendship I would keep.
A “No” does not need to be brutal and cutting-off. One soft way of saying “No” is to help the beneficiary find another project who can accommodate the request. It will bring value added through networking to the relationship with the beneficiary, in addition to the opportunity for a good collaboration with another project/partner.
The seven habits of mentally strong project managers
Over the last two decades, I worked with numerous project managers from different industries and the ones who are rock strong share a number of things in common. Now more than ever these habits will be tested and new ones will be developed. I’ll leave these ones below for now:
1. Mentally strong project managers practice self-awareness. They know that mental strength is their choice which requires commitment and a big sense of humour. They prefer self-irony to ego.
2. As they are building on self-awareness, they remain pro-active. They will pick up the phone first. They own the mistakes and failure. They act responsibly towards the team, the client and the sponsor.
3. They practice humility. They are humble enough to acknowledge that there are things they cannot control. They will however take seriously damage control. They refocus their attention on the things they can control and take the team through this. They care about what the team and the client thinks. The rest is a facebook thread to them.
4. They say “Hello, gorgeous!” to the unexpected, and projects by definition are plentiful of those. They know that even with the best of planning skills, there is a great deal of unchartered waters. Mentally strong project managers are as flexible as a willow and turn adversity into opportunity to bring return on investment.
5. They are best pals with risk management. They will ponder, calculate, analyse, involve others. They will put people first and thus sleep well at night.
6. They put relationships first. They know that reports, deliveries and milestones will become past. Relationships last.
7. They keep things in perspective and share it with others. They will respond to a colleague’s call for help and give the best of advice they can.
Nr 1 investment: professional relationships
If there would be one indefinite investment I would be asked to make in my professional life it would be human relationships.
In projects, even if short-lived, relationships matter the most. Project’s success rarely, if ever, depends on one person only. Relationships can make or break a project. As project managers, we have a double task of building our relationship with the team and creating/nurturing the environment in the team. And you should not forget about the relationship with yourself.
Relationships with team members start with developing rapport. I learned over years that developing rapport needs action on a number of levels:
A. “Knowing your self”, your triggers, your fears, your inner voice…
B. Taking time to learn about team members. What they like, what they dislike.
C. Opening yourself to others. The degree of openness depends on your introvert or extravert type of personality. Do not expect however the same from others. They will open when they are ready to trust.
D. Creating opportunities for team members to get to know each other. At a cooking class with colleagues, a team member exclaimed “you are surprisingly funny” addressing a colleague. Their work relationship flourished since then. This, in turn, brought large dividents to the project.
In a project team I managed, egos were big and complaints against each other – rampant. After a Christmas party, where each had to bring a gift to the team representing the country they were from, complaints ceased and the project could benefit from the unity of action through the diversity of background.
E. Making communication thoughtful and purposeful. In other words, think before talking and talk for a reason. Water cooler chats are fine, as long as no gossiping is involved.
F. Doing no harm to hamonious relationships between team members. Even if divide et impera worked in the short term, in long term it did not save even an empire.
G. Being consistent and practicing what you preach.
H. Giving credit where credit is due: in direct communication with the team member and also in discussions about what they do part of the project.
I. Staying humble and letting go when there is noting else you can do to keep or foster a relationship.
If you are wondering where to start, I found the following three tools useful:
- Profiling by colour
2. Personality Types test
3. “Tell me about your favourite spot”
Another useful “getting to know each other” exercise is “Tell me about your favourite spot“: each team member is asked to describe their favourite place in as many details as possible. It tells many thanks about how creative people are, if they value the process or the result, how important are other people in their story etc.
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