Project Management: “In between the lines” – Rarely Spoken, Hardly Written!
OK, I will not bore you with the standard PMP stuff, the project phases, the science, the project schedule, the critical path… you can find all that theoretical gyan in books, on Internet… just thought of blogging my take on project management based of my own experiences, not necessarily the perfect recipes for success. so request you to read with an open mind, without being judgemental and adjust the learning’s to suit your needs, personality and style.. the reason I say so, is the stuff that suits tom hanks will not suit on tom cruise … or say the dialogues that suit salman khan will not work on anyone else. the crux of the matter is, one can imitate the stuff but cannot guarantee the same impact/outcome. however, one has to understand the underline principals. values and drivers and adapt the learning’s to suit your personality to achieve the desired outcome..
to be gender neutral, read “HE as “HE OR SHE” … !! PM stands for the PROJECT MANAGER, the captain of the ship…!! Customer means internal customer and external customer both
Situation Handling/Response – Listen to your GUT
there is nothing called a perfect response for handling any situation, every situation is as unique as a thumb stamp and has to be handled based of what you think is best, at that point in time.. that’s why the “person in-charge” is called as a project manager and not a project maximiser…as PM, you have to manage the conflicting KPI’s and respond to a situation. Talk to people, seek suggestions, but in the end, do what you think is right, what your gut says.. as you are the man on the ground., the absolute responsible for the success or failure of the project. one thing that PM should avoid is having too many navigators around, don’t give up your natural rhythm, be confident and should have the absolute control of the steering wheel.. listen to everyone,but make your own decisions..!! there are tons of successful leaders who have created very successful organizations, not all have similar traits. some are perhaps 180 degree apart… be yourself, strengthen your strengths and try to manage your weaknesses.. life is too short to learn everything by going thru real experiences, reading books, reading stories, biographies helps to grow as a person, to develop emotional quotient, to get a handle on behaviour..
the project manager is not just a project manager but he wears multiple hats, he is customer relationship manager, he is a team manager who keeps the team together, a inspiring leader, stakeholder manager, he not only manages scope, budget and time, but also the customer relationship, the team morale, project stakeholders… 70% of PM’s time should ideally go in communication… be it written, spoken, body language, empathy, etc…. this is applicable in both personal and professional life. each one of us play multiple roles all the time, sometime a father, a husband, a brother, a son, a friend, etc… but we should learn to switch roles/hats very quickly, Inability to switch roles can be stressful… as PM, many a times, you have to give a subtle/strong message to a team member, but then you should not get stressed, just play that role, and communicate the messages as its required, the very next second, you should be ready to crack a joke… don’t become a project manager, just play the role of a project manager and switch roles as necessary.. Keep urself, the person and you as PM, totally separate, that way, you will not get stressed and emotional… I don’t know what’s the right word for this, a perfect actor or a thorough professional..! the only way to attain such behaviour is to do the work that you enjoy and good at, do not work for happiness (project success), but work out of happiness.. one should enjoy the work, not just the outcome…
Trust and Respect
as project manager, you must NOT put a particular team member on the spot, no matter what, you should be the one who should take all the shocks, surprises and blames. don’t just transmit the external shocks to the team members…the PM should enjoy absolute trust and great respect from every team member, the team should see you as the saviour, the leader who they can count on…they should feel absolutely free to share any bad or good feedback with you, without any inhibition or fear of blame.. they should see you as the great wall of china, as far as, their security and safety is concerned…I mean the emotional..part.. if you can become that trust worthy wall, I can promise you, the team will go to any extent to deliver the promises made by you, In no circumstances, you should make the team feel that you are more worried about the project than the people…As PM, you take care of the team, they will take care of your promises made to the external stakeholders…..! “take care of people, people will take care of the project“
Managing Risk via Continuously Building Future Scenarios
as PM, do not get too much bogged with supervising tactical, daily tasks, leave that to the architect, instead, try to explore the future scenarios, think 4-6 weeks ahead, foresee possible bottlenecks, build scenarios, try to simulate what can go wrong in future, and implement mitigating measures upfront. if you are able to identify the risks well in advance, most will never become a reality..
Making Success Inter-dependent
before you make lofty promises on scope, budget and time-lines, get a bunch of commitments from customer as well, be it test cases, data, system availability, you should make the success inter-dependent. unilaterally making promises is a bad idea, life is not fair as you would like, all the times… it may sound a bit political, but one should never make a promise without getting a favor of promise in return… trust me, it works and leads to a WIN-WIN situation.. Isn’t it great to see people around you working hard to make you and your project succeed. the only situation, that leads to a positive outcome, is WIN-WIN, all other combinations (WIN-Lose, Lose-WIN, Lose-Lose) are painful, and you must avoid them.
Understanding the background, and the motivation;
before you embark on interacting with the project stakeholders, try to understand their background, what they have done in the past, their motivations, try to understand the personality traits of all the critical stakeholders, and then accordingly adjust your behaviour to ensure that you don’t accidentally get on a rough patch, with the important stake holders… Knowing people is very important, that way, you will avoid surprise responses.. some people need close supervision and some ppl absolutely hate micro management. and its important for you as PM to know that… Also try to explain your personally traits upfront, to avoid people making wrong impressions about you, during early interactions… the project first, the team second, the individual third, that’s the ranking order one should follow and make it transparent to the team, so that they can appreciate your each decision in that light. Individual egos – Out of the Door..!
Managing Difficult Conversations / status calls with the Customer;
let say you are about to say that you have missed the milestone, because you have not received the necessary inputs from the customer, well, In theory, there is NO harm in saying that, but you may risk offending the customer and he may find another 10,000 reasons, to defend.. Instead, pose this question to your own architect in a customer call, why he has missed the milestone, obviously he may say, he is waiting on some inputs, ask him what he has done as Plan B, let the customer listen to your conversation… OK, What I’m trying to say is; avoid direct head on conversation with the customer as you may accidentally trigger a blame game and risk spoiling the working relationship. Your absolute aim is to let customer realize that there is a delay on your side for genuine reasons, and the customer should ideally empathize with you in the end, if you have handled the conversation well.
I call this as “SIDE CONVERSATION” to convey the target message to the target listener softly in a subtle way…
Good Cop, Bad Cop
as PM, you have to deliver the scope, within project margin and of-course a customer satisfaction score of 10/10… this is the hardest combination, one can strive for… but then, what’s the fun, if its not challenging..!! customer is king, customer is the ultimate deity, responsible for our payslips, the PM just can’t afford to risk the working relationship… at the end, it’s obviously critical what you delivered but its also very critical, how you delivered.. So… How you convey difficult messages to the customer, … create a ghost bad cop, let say the strict Quality Manager, my QM is not letting me do this, until this happens, get behind the development processes, the audit requirements, the compliance stuff.. .Don’t pose yourself as a difficult person. or a inflexible person.. create a bad cop, if there is no real, create a ghost, to help you with difficult negotiations..
it’s like when you want to say NO to your friend, you generally say I will check with my wife and ur friend should say – its Ok dude, in silent words, oh poor fellow.. 🙂
Good Conductor Vs Bad Conductor
any bad news, or any escalation, just don’t pass it, as it is, to the team… a PM should have a better shock absorber than an efficient transmission system. you get a crappy email, you add your 20% and transmit it further.. that’s not a good idea.. the same applies for good news as well… as PM, you should recognize and reward your guys during the worst times, the project situation may look worse in the eyes of external world, but then those are the times, to motivate and recognize the best performers.. brave soldiers are recognized and promoted right in middle of war zone, not necessarily after the victory is declared..! some say, get the people walking, get the people talking, conference rooms are not the best places to have a frank discussion, take some of ur key guys for a walk after lunch, gradually explain the grave situation, seek advise, seek suggestions, what can be done.. never get in to a post-mortem in the middle of a project, that too in a team meeting, it may work in short term, but in long term, guys will get very conservative, defensive in talking, in making promises… award risk takers, do not penalise them… Seeking the root cause of the issue with an intent to avoid that, in future, is simply a noble thought, but Do not put a few people on the spot. my point is, each team member should be very excited to get to work every monday morning, to battle it out, WE WILL FIX IT TOGETHER…. that should be the attitude..!!
many studies have shown, that majority of the projects fail, because of wrong resource assignment.. project assignment is not mere staffing function, to match demand with supply… its very critical, that you probe the strengths, the limitations, the past experience, the aspirations, before you assign any responsibility to an individual…. no matter how junior or senior that person is.. some may be good in coding, some may be good in talking, some may be good in negotiation… you must marry the strengths and aspirations to the requisite work… provide the necessary support, the intent is to ensure that people are successful, the rest all will fall in place automatically… there are few people who do very well in a structured environment but some simply fail in a chaotic situation.. this applies for the project managers as well… you have to consider every critical aspect before you put a person on a specific job..
Politics is a bad word… well not always…. the dictionary meaning says… “the activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power” the wiki says – Politics (from Greek: πολιτικός politikos, definition “of, for, or relating to citizens”) is the practice and theory of influencing other people.
as long as you influence people to achieve the project goals that’s should be fine, I guess. I call it – constructive politics… as in any state, there are diverse people, with diverse priorities, and the political class does politics to govern the state for the greater good for the society at large… the same way, the project has also diverse stakeholders with diverse priorities, one can divide the stake holders in to 3 circles.
first circle – your own team,
second circle – the guys who are mostly neutral and doing their bit achieve their own goals, and there is no conflict as such
the third circle – the group of people with who you and your project may have substantial conflict of interest..
As PM, one should adjust his approach as per the audience. the whole idea is to achieve the overall greater good… To do politics just for individual gains is bad, and that’s why its generally considered a bad word in normal parlance…
let me know what do you think ??