As much as we wish these things didn’t occur, we sometimes find ourselves having to leave a project early or terminate a business engagement. This is always difficult to do, and how you do it can help you maintain your integrity and credibility throughout the transition.
Recently, I had to terminate a business relationship myself. Here are a few lessons that I learned that you can apply the next time you are in a similar situation.
1. Place the blame on yourself. I know you wouldn’t be leaving a project or quitting a business relationship if it were all your fault, but the key thing here is that you need to buck up and take responsibility for the business arrangement ending. There are several ways you can frame it to take the emphasis for the decision away from the other party. For example: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the ability to deliver the work to you in a manner that you have grown accustomed to” or “I find myself at a point where I don’t feel my presence best serves the project, and I think a new set of eyes is going to be helpful to getting things back on track.” Or, you can come up with your own. The point is that you take a little of the emphasis off the party that you are ending the relationship with and place it on yourself. This will lessen any bad blood or negativity from the decision. It is important to note that you must cast the decision in terms of your inability to continue to serve the client in a manner that he or she deserves.
2. If possible, present options for replacements.If you find yourself at a point of no return and need out of a business relationship, you can soften the blow even more if you provide alternatives. The question you are probably asking yourself is, “If I can’t work with this person or on this project, why would I refer them to someone else?” But the truth is, we are all in different businesses and at different stages of our career — and while your threshold for some clients may be zero, someone just starting out or looking to find a different focus may be more than willing to accept a challenge that you consider unnecessary. This goes back to the first point: If you can’t serve the client in the way that he or she deserves, you are doing the client a favor by removing yourself from the project and helping him or her find someone who can do better.
3. Be prepared for blowback.Even when these things go great, there will be some sort of blowback or negative impact. You might have spelled everything out with as much tact as a veteran diplomat, but you are still leaving the business relationship with a jilted partner who may lash out to other members of your organization or other potential business partners. In this instance, you can try to contain any negative feedback or impact on you and your career by preparing a standard statement that you give to everyone that explains your role in the dissolution of the relationship. It should cast a bad situation in the most favorable light for you. One I have used is: “I am sorry the project didn’t work out, but I made a series of unwise choices that made my effectiveness impossible, and to best serve the project, I felt it was best for me to step away.” That’s it — it isn’t perfect, but neither is the situation you find yourself in.
How have you found success in ending business relationships?
Join meon December 4, 2014, in my upcoming seminar on leadership in project management.
When you have to deliver bad news, the processes you use are at least as important as the decision you've made.
Take this example: The car manufacturing industry in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia is in the process of ceasing manufacturing and moving to an importing business. Over the next few years, thousands of jobs will be lost or transformed. Progress and change are inevitable, and the transition has been reluctantly accepted by most people. However, I was really surprised--when the first major round of layoffs occurred a few weeks ago at a manufacturer--to hear the local trades union representative complimenting the factory management on the way it had handled the decision of who should go now, who had a job for a few more months and who would be relocated into the new import business.
The key factor was not the decision or its fairness. The key was the empathy and consideration shown to each of the laid-off workers by their management, and the fact that the members of the management team (most of whom would be losing their jobs as well) had taken the time to speak with each worker and appreciate his or her input to the business over many years.
By applying "process fairness" and giving everyone a chance to be heard, what could have been a very angry and disruptive event was transformed into a wake to remember the good times and the contributions made by the industry. It was still a sad and stressful time, but far less so than it might otherwise have been.
So what is process fairness and why is it important?
Process fairness is quite distinct from outcome fairness. Outcome fairness refers to judgments made about the final outcome. In this case, it is unfair to lose your job after 20 or 30 years due to a combination of factors largely outside of anyone's control. Process fairness is aligned with the concepts of procedural fairness and natural justice, and particularly applies to decisions affecting the team leader/team member (or manager/employee) relationship. Broadly speaking, there are three intertwined components of process fairness:
Process fairness makes a big difference! A study of nearly 1,000 people--led by U.S. researchers E. Allan Lind and Jerald Greenberg (and cited in the book Manager's Desktop Consultant)--found that a major determinant of whether employees sue for wrongful termination is their perception of how fairly the termination process was carried out. Only 1 percent of ex-employees who felt they were treated with a high degree of process fairness filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, versus 17 percent of those who believed they were treated with a low degree of process fairness. Similar results can be found for patients suing doctors and customers suing businesses.
Process fairness doesn't ensure team members will always get what they want or that the final decision is "fair"--but it does ensure they will have a chance to be heard. It is also highly likely that a decision-maker who follows a fair process will reach a fair and correct decision.
Fairness demands that the affected people are told about the impending decision and are given the chance to reply before a decision that negatively affects their existing interest or legitimate expectations is made. Put simply, hearing both sides of the story is critical to good decision-making and happier team members.
There are six rules that apply to procedural justice (or natural justice), and they equally affect procedural fairness:
Process fairness in the workplace and in communication simply requires fairness to everyone--that is, when something is applied, it has to be applied to everyone and procedures need to be consistent with moral and ethical values.
So next time you have to make a decision that affects your team, rather than trying to make the best decision on your own, tell the members about the decision and the reasons it needs to be made, ask for their input and take the time to listen. Once you have reached your decision, explain the reasons clearly and leave space for feedback, particularly from anyone the decision will hurt. You may be surprised by the support you get from everyone.
Do you think your decision-making process is fair?
Give Your Project a Home
Have you ever been on a project where the team members and the project manager resemble migratory birds? This nomadic existence does not lend itself well to fostering project cohesion and direction. And without a cohesive project team, project performance can suffer.
In my experience, one of the more effective ways to produce cohesion and focus on a project is to have a central location that serves as its geographic and social home. To create such a home, project managers should build and operate a "project control room." The project control room is a gathering spot for a team to conduct essential project activities with a high level of productive interaction. Having created project control rooms in the past, I can attest they're a great method to increase the overall performance of a project team.
Here are a few aspects that make for a successful project control room -- and ultimately, a successful project:
1. Tell the story of the project. The project control room is a great venue to share an at-a-glance view of disposition of a project. This can be done by printing the key artifacts on large-format paper using a plotter and posting them on a wall. These would include, but are not limited to the overall project schedule, current status readouts, risks/issue list, deliverable lists and milestones status. If budget and time permit, project teams can create virtual "printouts" by projecting them on television screens, which also saves a lot of paper each week!
2. Enable collaboration. Design the project control room to foster communication and interaction between people. This can include items such as a group meeting area, private phone rooms, electrical outlets to plug in computers, speakerphones, good lighting, soundproofing and comfortable chairs. In addition, the project manager and at least one member of the project support team should be in the project control room on a recurring basis to support ad-hoc dialogue and meetings.
3. Offer a visible project destination. Use signage with the project name and objective to make the project control room visible to passers-by. Set the room as the location for regular project meetings. At the start of the project, communicate to project leadership that the project control room is the home for the project and its team members. To reduce expenses and mobilization time, the room could be shared across multiple projects; each team can claim a wall for project artifacts as well as set consistently recurring times to use the room.
4. Make every detail count. Even the smallest details can contribute to an effective project control room. For example, how many times have you reached for a marker to write thoughts on a board and found the marker empty of ink? Supplying the room with an abundance of office supplies -- such as board markers, notepads, large sheets of paper to capture action lists -- helps reduce administrative distractions. In addition, keep a stockpile of the project team's favorite snacks and drinks on hand. Everyone knows how project activities can consume a lot of energy!
Creating and operating a project control room goes a long way toward building the cohesion that allows teams to operate at a high level of performance without distractions.
Do you have any good tips for project control rooms? Maybe a recommended type of snack or drink that gets project sponsors to enthusiastically attend project meetings on a regular basis?
A Hollywood-Style Move From PM to Scrum Master
Cinephiles and regular movie-goers know who Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins is. Sir Anthony is a Welsh actor of film, stage and television, considered to be one of the greatest living actors.
Your journey as a project management practitioner may be similar to Sir Anthony's journey as an actor. You may have to play different roles in projects and might gained recognition for your work. As your journey continues, you may be looking for the next stop that may lead you to explore other project management disciplines, like agile -- and, in particular, the role of an agile scrum master.
From Stage to Movie Set
Versatility is a virtue of all great actors. Though Sir Anthony has experience as a stage actor, acting for a film is quite different. As a stage actor, Sir Anthony had to undergo many rehearsal hours, and experienced a specific, tight-knit team of actors and staff. Lighting and environment are essential for the performance and there is no room for error in every live show. A theatrical play delivers a well-defined "product" that may resemble what agilists call a "traditional project" under waterfall methodology. As a project manager, you "manage the stage" of the project, meeting the stakeholders' pre-defined requirements and applying your skills supported by the project team. Your project will deliver the product or service it was intended for.
But on the film set, Sir Anthony likely needed to be more flexible, since a scene may require several takes until the director is pleased. The film set is more dynamic: different locations; a different type of crew; the addition or removal of stunts, etc. The phases of a motion picture-making -- pre-production, principal cinematography and post-production -- are similar to sprints in an agile environment.
Sir Anthony makes transferring acting skills from stage to the film set seem easy. But like him, you also have transferrable skills: you can communicate, influence, orchestrate and remove roadblocks. You can use these talents to help you adjust to the new project environment.
From Hannibal to Odin
While Sir Anthony has occupied diverse roles -- from Richard Nixon (Nixon, 1995) to Odin (Thor, 2011) -- he's been successful because he's always prepared properly, trained to correctly represent the character and depended on his foundation as an actor (whatever the media).
As a project practitioner, you are likely familiar with PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fifth Edition, tools and techniques; best practices; and project methodology of the company or customer you work for. Those elements complement your preparation and training as a project manager -- and lay the foundation to explore and learn new methodologies like agile.
What is your experience as a project management practitioner transitioning to scrum master?
In one of my previous posts, I suggested ways to maintain documentation. And as you know, documentation is very important -- it's the essence of knowledge transfer. The beauty of documentation is that it allows us to avoid the pains of reinventing a series of events that may only reside in a person's mind as a singular experience. It can also lead us to extract some aspect that may move our project from uncertainty and unknowns to more useful information.
So, once we have taken the precautions I mentioned in my previous post for generating clear and valid documentation, the question becomes: What project documentation should we always have and hold on to? I would suggest, at a minimum, the following:
The charter. It is the closest disclosure to everything the project should touch on. It includes a high-level look at the project: resource list, budget, timeline, assumptions, constraints, risks, other areas of impact and dependencies, a brief description and an immediate focus.
Budget background and expenditures. This information typically details the budget spending and directs you to possible future support, if any can be used again.
Sources. These include contacts and stakeholders; where information is stored; direct lines of contact; contacts who would be next in the succession; who and where to reach out to in case of additional needs; and where information stemmed from, and how it should be categorized and even prioritized.
A status report of risks and issues in their most recent form. These items show the progress that has or has not been made and is especially helpful in communicating to a new project manager (or yourself, if returning to a project) where to pick up. This status report can even help determine the project's resource needs.
Scope. This tells you what should have been the focus of the project. It also helps determine whether there needed to be an extension to this scope or if something different should be embarked upon, such as a total new project or maybe a revamping of the current scope.
Are there any types of documentation you find significant to have during a project and to hold on to after a project closes?