Project Management Central

Please login or join to subscribe to this thread

Project Resource Mgmt in Trouble - How to manage a Project Team of Experts
Network:84



Hello Dear colleagues PMs, I have never thought I will be in this situation. I hope you can help and share your advice/ experience.

I am PM since many years (10+) in a global IT company, mainly leading process improvement projects in customer support.
PMP, LSS Green Belt and ITIL Practitioner certified and really passionate about Project Management and (Servant) Leadership.
Six months ago, changing to Services (more Sales oriented culture, thus also more aggressive) and taking over the lead of a high priority global project (before really knowing the business).
Despite things running pretty chaotic, IT delivering always late and low quality just to meet deadlines plus zero visibility & transparency, I became a PM of a Project Team of 20-30+ years experienced experts.
Additionally, those guys are my peers in the new team I joined (consisting of 2 PMs and 7 Process Engineers) which is extremely SME oriented (even all the mangers in the org are rather SMEs than people mgrs).
Now, my core team has a huge problem with me being collaborative, empathic and focusing on transparency and communication.
They feel offended that I ask for their expertise, but I take decisions which they don’t like and serve the other stakeholders.
From bad experience in previous projects they try to avoid doing work for other teams, thus refusing support to others and putting the project success at risk (from my point of view).
They were also used that previous PMs came to them with a ready-to-go project plan and just let them execute dedicated tasks.
Now, that I asked them to actively participate in project planning, they completely blocked and refused to further work with me (poorly planned workload in other assignments also plays a big role).
On the other hand, I experience very good collaboration with the rest of the stakeholders and extended project team – they are happy that I keep them engaged, support them, give them the needed information.
In summary, my Project Core Team of 20-30+ years experts are angry with me and refusing to further work with me.
Have you ever experienced such situation, and would you know an advice to me?
Many thanks in advance!
Best regards,
Rado
Sort By:
Network:93



The expectations organizations have from project managers vary from organization to organization. In your case I tend to believe that PMs are expected to be highly skilled SMEs.

"They were also used that previous PMs came to them with a ready-to-go project plan and just let them execute dedicated tasks.
Now, that I asked them to actively participate in project planning, they completely blocked and refused to further work with me [...]"

Normally the role of the PM in the planning is to engage SMEs to provide input so that the plan can be made. The PMs usually don't provide the actual information in the plan as you need very good SME skills to do that.

Since your colleagues expect you to provide the whole plan including tasks and estimations then it means that they expect you to be a highly skilled SME. But even so if the team is cross functional a highly skilled SME can't provide all the planning information as he is only an expert in his line of work.

Maybe you don't fit to the expectations your organization or your part of organization have from project managers. If you can't change your organization you either adapt or leave, otherwise you will have a lot of frustrations.

Now regarding people managers being SMEs this is normal in most organizations especially for the SMEs line managers they are almost always SMEs themselves.
Network:22875



Hi Rado,

From what you described; the team is wanting a "PM in a box", which is obviously and fortunately - not you. It also sounds like you were purposely placed into this position to be a "proper PM" that is going to assess the state of the project and plot a new way forward with all the appropriate accountability controls in place.

It's also apparent, that the core team now recognizes that their sponsors see a project in crisis and that you are their “agent of change” placed there to recover the project. They are pushing back and "rationing knowledge" as they simply want you to buy-time for the project and allow them (i.e., the experts) to right-the-ship.

However, to succeed where others have failed, one must reject complacency, contradict the accepted, and embrace the unknown. So, you went in on "round one", and asked them to participate in the planning, hoping that this would build up knowledge and thus provide enough detail that you could collaboratively plot a new way forward. They rejected this approach, so (in my opinion), you now need to take it to "round two.".

In round two, you need to create a new environment where accountability cannot be hacked. With the backing of your sponsors, I would call a one-day "project checkpoint" workshop. You will invite your sponsors, and ask them to bring representation from executive management. You will then require all leads (business and technical) to prepare presentations on the state of the project, following guidelines that you will provide. They will send their presentations to you and you will put them together in a master stack – pushing anything back that didn’t meet your guidelines.

As the PM, you will facilitate this checkpoint workshop and require that the leads present their portion of the slides. Allocate approximately one-third of the workshop for presentations and knowledge growth, then take the next segment of time to have a "challenge-based discussion" on all the points of concern. The final third of the workshop should be focused on the "way forward."

I’m obviously making a lot of assumptions, but you should feel honored to have this role! Hopefully, something akin to this can help you, as we want to keep away from round-three. Don’t forget to use your soft-skills, especially empathy.
...
1 reply by Seif Eldin Soliman
Jul 11, 2019 3:31 PM
Seif Eldin Soliman
...
I couldn't have said any better, George, you have summed it up in a very nice and organized way.
Network:84



Thank you, George and Adrian, very good advises indeed! I will try them.
I was also thinking of finding allies to strengthen my position as I see others around, complaining about this small group of experts too. They are literally blocking everything which is not their world (by the way they are not wrong at all when highlighting the risks but they are completely lacking the strategic view, thus blocking the change the project is asked to implement; you see it's a lot about MoC) but I feel it will just worsen the situation as they will see themselves confronted and isolated. I feel the right approach should be integration rather than trying to show them they are wrong. What makes it even worse is the fact that there are no better SMEs the project can get.
Network:72



A couple of assumptions to state upfront based on your narrative … then I will add a few comments:

1. The estimations in previous Project Plans were done (mostly) by the former PMs (rather than the team members doing the execution) which was an underlying cause for poor project results.
2. The team that you are now in charge of has developed over time into a very cohesive group. Speaking to one is similar to speaking to the group as a whole. Recognizing this will help guide you on how to approach and differentiate communications with specific individuals as well as the group itself.

The biggest change for these SMEs is that you are trying to get them to be fully engaged from Planning == Executing == M&C == Closing (rather than primarily Executing). Planning is likely the biggest game changer for them … and one that attaches ownership when it comes to Executing and M&C.

Feeding their resistance is fear of change, fear of failure and the specter that they will not adapt quickly to something that challenges their current status quo.

I don't have any 'silver bullets'. This is a difficult, complex problem. But, however you go about making this seismic shift for them, keep a couple things in mind:

You, alone, cannot fix the problem. You must get the appropriate manager(s)/stakeholder(s)/sponsor(s) involved with you to work the problem from multiple angles. You must have active -- not passive -- support from management. Assuming these individuals report to functional managers, you will have to get those managers engaged: Where we are today … where we want to go … and how we are going to get there.

Change can be difficult. Focus on the positive as best you can. Also keep in mind recognition can play a significant role in steering the ship if done properly at the right time and with honesty. Try to tailor your recognition to the specific member.

In whoever you work with in management, you need a plan to effectively step-in the changes that need to be made with the SMEs: What, when & where.

Take advantage of any opportunity that shows their input influencing your decision-making (without compromising yourself, of course). The picture you have described is a 'me against them'. This is at the heart of what fundamentally must change.
Network:84



Spot-on, James! Thank you!
Network:303



It sounds like you have all the ingredients to manage a successful Project team but obviously something is wrong. At first glance of your story it looks like for some reason the project team you are managing are somehow rallying against you and stifling your ability to perform your job. You said that this began when you moved from a previous position into this role so it could that maybe they were expecting some else for the position and when you came along this did not meet their expectation. This puts you in the position of should I stay in my position or should I transfer some where else which the situation your team probably wants you to be in. My approach would firsts to see if you can get the team working again by confirming your commitment to the organisation and it goals. This can be done on an individual basis or as a team. If this does not work then you could look at dismantling the team and rebuilding from scratch which is your prerogative as a Project Manager. You may need to replace a individual or the whole team but ultimately no one persons is greater than the team that you manage.
Network:84



Valuable feedback, Daire! Thank you!
Network:108050



I have experienced a similar situation, Radoslav, when implementing agile approaches on big projects. Usually senior management is sold on the value that agile brings to projects. The trick is to get that value out of the implementation team.

The implementation team finds comfort in what they know and what they can do. You are asking them to take ownership of the project and its troubles. Why would they want that? Why would they not simply prefer to blame the project management team that made all the decisions?

You have to figure out why they would be interested in working collegially, rather than in silos. You then have to provide the environment to foster motivation and interest to work together.
Network:619



Jun 29, 2019 8:04 AM
Replying to George Freeman
...
Hi Rado,

From what you described; the team is wanting a "PM in a box", which is obviously and fortunately - not you. It also sounds like you were purposely placed into this position to be a "proper PM" that is going to assess the state of the project and plot a new way forward with all the appropriate accountability controls in place.

It's also apparent, that the core team now recognizes that their sponsors see a project in crisis and that you are their “agent of change” placed there to recover the project. They are pushing back and "rationing knowledge" as they simply want you to buy-time for the project and allow them (i.e., the experts) to right-the-ship.

However, to succeed where others have failed, one must reject complacency, contradict the accepted, and embrace the unknown. So, you went in on "round one", and asked them to participate in the planning, hoping that this would build up knowledge and thus provide enough detail that you could collaboratively plot a new way forward. They rejected this approach, so (in my opinion), you now need to take it to "round two.".

In round two, you need to create a new environment where accountability cannot be hacked. With the backing of your sponsors, I would call a one-day "project checkpoint" workshop. You will invite your sponsors, and ask them to bring representation from executive management. You will then require all leads (business and technical) to prepare presentations on the state of the project, following guidelines that you will provide. They will send their presentations to you and you will put them together in a master stack – pushing anything back that didn’t meet your guidelines.

As the PM, you will facilitate this checkpoint workshop and require that the leads present their portion of the slides. Allocate approximately one-third of the workshop for presentations and knowledge growth, then take the next segment of time to have a "challenge-based discussion" on all the points of concern. The final third of the workshop should be focused on the "way forward."

I’m obviously making a lot of assumptions, but you should feel honored to have this role! Hopefully, something akin to this can help you, as we want to keep away from round-three. Don’t forget to use your soft-skills, especially empathy.
I couldn't have said any better, George, you have summed it up in a very nice and organized way.
Network:619



From what I have read and based on feedback from the rest of our colleagues here, it seems like you need to get support from management and have accountability on core team, everyone in his own deliverables.

My advice is that since they are not participating in project planning that you take the initiative and prepare a rough draft for it and call for kick off meeting where you try to ensure that they understand that if the project fail, all the team fails and accountability will be done per activity assignment were everyone is a leader in his area and his KPIs are linked to his activities in the project.

in some companies they link the STI & Salary increase with these tasks with accountability.

Please login or join to reply

Content ID:
ADVERTISEMENTS

The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.

- Elbert Hubbard

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsors