Relationships take a lot of work. Are you working on your project relationships?
The importance of building productive working relationships with your team can't be overstated. It's a fundamental part of a project manager’s job—as time-consuming and critical as creating the project plan, managing risk, updating the schedule, monitoring the budget, and communicating to stakeholders.
So how do you know how well you're doing it? You might need to evaluate your project relationships if team members...
... voice concern that they don’t know where they stand in terms of roles or expectations.
... don't come directly to you with questions, issues or concerns about the project.
... resist participating in meetings and avoid the project's communication channels.
... seem unenthusiastic about collaborating on solutions to project challenges
WHAT YOU CAN DO
As the saying goes, “no man is an island,” and no project team should ever feel like it is working on an island. As the project manager, you should be the face and voice of the project. You need to make sure each team member can clearly “see” and “hear” you; likewise, they need to know that they will be seen and heard.
You must be fair and consistent in your dealings with the team, it should go without saying. But you also need to acknowledge that each team member is an individual, with different strengths and weaknesses, work styles and motivations. That means you want to try to be flexible and attentive to each relationship as it evolves. A formulaic approach will only garner formulaic relationships. You want more. You want the best that each team member has to offer.
The ultimate goal is to find how your team’s individual talents can best serve the project as a whole, and how you can help them make that happen. This requires honesty, respect and support from you. In return, you can rightfully expect, and should receive, the same from your team.
Define Your Role. Before you can define what you expect from team members, you need to describe what they can expect from you throughout the project. Make it clear that your eyes are always on “the prize.” From project kickoff to closeout, they should be completely confident that everything you say and do is in the name of project success.
Set Expectations. Once you’ve established your role, you need to set expectations for the team as a whole, and for each team member. Some of these expectations will be universal regardless of the project or team makeup—accountability for their work and effort, commitment to the goals of the project.
And some will need to be tailored to each individual’s skillset. This requires time for discussion, questions and clarification with each team member. Expectations can’t just be handed down “from on high.” Yes, you are ultimately in charge as the project manager, but to establish productive work relationships and generate buy-in, you want these expectations to serve as motivational tools, not emotionless dictates.
Be Available. From the get-go, some team members will have no qualms letting you know exactly what they think and how they feel. Others will be less inclined to speak out in the presence of their peers. Whether your preferred managing style is “open-door,” “walk the floor,” or something a bit more reserved, it is critical that you make yourself available to team members for private, one-on-one conversations. These talks can be much more informative than what surfaces in official settings.
Be Appreciative. Diligent team members are bound to bear down on their daily tasks and responsibilities. When they occasionally look up from the work at hand, they should feel that their contributions are being recognized and acknowledged in relation to the bigger picture.
Appreciation can’t really be conveyed in monthly status reports. Make it personally meaningful by thanking them face-to-face whenever possible. In addition, make their contributions visible to the rest of the team and sponsors by giving shout-outs to deserving team members in weekly meetings as well as informal group settings. Recognition is a powerful relationship-building tool.
Be Trustworthy. You can’t expect team members to openly share their concerns about the project if there is any apprehension that bad news will affect their standing or be shared in a detrimental way with peers or superiors. If a culture of fear has existed on other projects in the organization, make it clear that it won’t rule the day on your project. It might be difficult to convince an individual who has been burned before; others may prefer to play politics. But showing that you value honesty over calculation will eventually pay dividends, be it uncovering festering problems or encouraging more realistic estimates and assessments of current risks.
Be Congenial. It doesn’t hurt and can often help to show interest in your team members’ lives outside the workplace. This doesn’t mean you have to step outside of your comfort zone or try to feverishly form friendships with everyone, though that might happen naturally at times. The point is, professionalism and collegiality are not mutually exclusive. In the end, a team that knows you care about them beyond the spreadsheets and timelines is a team that will almost always work harder for you and the project.
Be Yourself. Finally, there is no substitute for authenticity. You don’t want a job that forces you to be someone else. That won’t bring you satisfaction, and it won’t be effective in leading others. Be yourself, and at the very least, your team will know who they are in the trenches with.
Whether you're an introvert or extrovert, building productive team relationships is part of the job. And like all relationships, it takes work. Get to it!
Organizations are ramping up investment in AI, data and analytics initiatives to accelerate business agility, but a vast majority of them are struggling with business transformation in general, and cultural challenges are by far their biggest obstacle to adoption. Those are key conclusions from the 2019 New Vantage Partners Big Data and AI Executive survey.
In the survey, executives from Fortune 1000 companies cited multiple factors impeding their transformation efforts, including organizational alignment, agility and resistance. The common denominator? A whopping 95 percent of their issues stemmed from cultural challenges! Only 5 percent related to technology.
"If companies hope to transform, they must begin to address the cultural obstacles," the report states. And later it concludes, "Firms need to adopt a long-term approach, focusing on the complex cultural challenges as a starting point."
It's a brand new report but its findings are not news — not to people who have been managing strategic projects for a while. Organizations don't want to get left behind in the rush to leverage emerging technologies to execute strategy, deliver value and stay relevant. But the technology can't get ahead of the culture. And that's an old, stubborn truth that can't be automated or analyzed away.
How can companies address these cultural challenges to transformation and strategic implementation?
According to the report, while 92 percent of the companies highlighted the “need for agility” as the primary driver of Big Data/AI investment, 40 percent of these same companies identified “lack of agility” as the principle challenge to business adoption.
So they have to be more agile in their journey to agility? That might remind some of the classic "chicken or the egg" question. But for this dilemma, we know which comes first. Culture.
Project-driven organizations can't fix their culture without meaningful change in how their project teams operate. That starts with a commitment to collaboration, to learning, to autonomy, to trust.
Easier said than done? Of course. There is no simple template to follow or process to plug in. Organizations need people (and not just executives) who acknowledge the issues holding them back; who advocate for the needed changes; who represent the desired future in their day-to-day actions. When they get enough of those people, the culture is already changing for the better. Perhaps you're one of those people!
That's a great idea! Um ... how are we going to do it? Innovative thinking is a wonderful asset to any organization, one that should be encouraged and supported. But it's more wonderful when the great ideas get translated into tangible value.
The fact is, most cool concepts quickly go cold for want of the ways and means to execute them. All those dirty details that turn vision into reality, strategy into results — that's where project leadership comes in. But unfortunately, that's also where it often exits.
Yes, most organizations realize the importance of strong project management practices. And many have invested in project management offices, tools and training. Still, many of these same organizations see project after project continue to veer off track. Sure, some goals are achieved, but others aren't. Savings are realized here, but how much is wasted there? What's the problem, who's to blame? After all, the strategy was sound, the idea was great. It had to be poor execution that caused the project to come up short!
But time and again, it is not poor execution that is the cause of project failure. It’s not misguided strategy, either. It is the separation of strategy from execution that remains the great operational divide in the business world. This missing link leaves us spinning our competitive wheels, while frustrating the very people — the project managers and teams members — who are expected to deliver the results.
And barring extreme good fortune or superhuman efforts, projects will continue to fail until the strategic planning and the project managing are meaningfully integrated.
It isn't easy. Project teams — agile, traditional or hybrid — still operate in a vacuum all too often. Individuals focus on their own challenges and deadlines, not the big-picture vision or bold idea. And why would they if they don't participate in the development — or at the very least, the validation and refinement — of those ideas? No, if they're only asked to get things done, then only "things" will get done.
Project managers can't single-handedly bridge the disconnect caused by hierarchal power-hoarding; it’s embedded in many corporate cultures. But you don't have to be helpless victims. There are ways to get on the executive radar, and they don't all require becoming a radical outcast. In preparing your next progress report, take a second look to see if you are solely addressing your issues (however valid they may be), but not the issues keeping your bosses awake at night. Talk up customer value and financial metrics, then reframe them in terms that relate to your team's day-to-day reality.
Sure, project management is about getting things done on time, on budget and to scope. But it should be about one more thing: context. You and your team live that context as much as any executive does — often more so.
Companies will not succeed without engaged, motivated project teams — and that starts with the project leader — the living, breathing link between innovation and value, strategy and execution.
Not too long ago, it seemed that you couldn't read two articles on project management without one of them citing the purported failure rate of projects. Was it 50 percent? 80?! Some sort of "objective criteria" defined the failures in these studies — a certain number of days past deadline or a percentage over budget, for example.
You don't see those doomsday leads as often these days, and their validity was always a matter of debate. Definitions of success or failure aren't so neatly tied to simple metrics that don't take into account the many ways an initiative can deliver value. Of course, that's where self-appointed experts, consultants and vendors make a good living, offering their solution to your project management problem.
But forget failure rates and packaged solutions for a minute. You know, the world's best baseball players walk back to the dugout having failed almost 70 percent of the time. And they don't throw away their equipment or change their technique each time. They've accepted the reality of their enterprise: small, spinning objects traveling more than 90 miles per hour are very difficult to hit.
To continue the analogy, project teams get thrown a lot of curves, from before the project even starts (unrealistic estimates) through the heat of battle (missing-in-action sponsors, conflicting directives, competing resources) to an often-hazy closeout (if they get there). Under these conditions, homeruns are hard to come by. A few bad-hop singles might even be deserving of celebration — and certainly not evidence of complete failure.
My point, of course, is not to say that late or over-budget projects should be accepted as inevitable by organizations. But it is more constructive to re-focus the failure conversation. No methodology or technology solution can wish project success into reality — unless it begins with people.
I've never interviewed a process. However, I have chatted with thousands of project leaders and team members over the years. And many of them confirm that their organizations are striking out on a consistent basis.
But the root cause of these failures does not necessarily map out directly to the particular method or tools their organizations employ. No, the problem is more often the dangerous disconnect between the organization's strategic goals and how those goals are — or aren't — translated into action.
The project teams know it and hate it, but they don't feel like they can do much about it. The customers sense it, and they're ready to do something about it, sooner or later. The senior managers know it, and they're doing everything they can to deflect it. And what of the top-level executives — the leadership? Well, too often, they're still waiting to be told about it, so they can hire an outside consultant, who may or may not get around to talking to the project team, to fix it.
If that sounds like sour grapes, or cynicism from the trenches, so be it. Perception becomes reality. And the truth bears repeating, again and again, until someone at the top hears it and believes it:
Processes don't perform projects; people do. Until people drive the processes, and not the other way around, there will continue to be unrest in the trenches — along with "experts" who make a good living citing the project failure rate, whatever it is.