What would you do if…?

15 August

My wife is in the process of reading a business book for work, and we often chat about interesting ideas or insights she picks up as she moves through the chapters. The book sets up similar to others, providing some background on the author, her work experience and how the book came to be written. It also starts off with an interesting question, that should definitely get a person thinking – “What would you do if you were not afraid?”

Now this is a pretty broad question, and I would not attempt to answer for anyone other than myself, but I started to think about how I may be able to apply this from a work perspective and how this concept would work in taking on the role of a project manager or project team member. Part of the challenge of being a project manager or team member is the expectation placed upon you to get work done, and done successfully. In many cases this work is often on top of your regular day-to-day activities, it is challenging and often stressful, and usually, does not go as smoothly as predicted or planned. So, by its very nature, project work pushes greater degrees of accountability, forces confrontation, and requires people to deliver a sometimes less than optimal messaging aka “bad news” to a non-receptive and sometime hostile audience. Bottom line – it can be scary stuff.

So how do we take some of the fear out of such an undertaking? Notice I said “some” here, as these steps will not solve every issue or risk that arises (nor can they be anticipated), but should help position you and your teams for smoother communications, a better project process, enhanced organizational education and understanding around projects and hopefully more effective projects overall. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Understand your organization and its organizational culture – is it formal or loose? Does it like electronic updates or face-to-face interchange of information? .Learn how to navigate through the organization the way it likes to do business. This is the framework you need to work in and through.
  • Communicate all ways and always – this needs to be done up and down through the organization. It needs to be done frequently to insure expectations are set. It also needs to be concise and focused on the key points the audience needs to know, especially if items are being monitored for potential negative impact to the project. The sooner the team and organization are aware of a potential problem, the easier it will be to work a solution that all can feel comfortable with implementing. The goal here is to avoid surprises. We like them around the holidays and for birthdays, but not in our projects.
  • Understand your facts – people react much better to hard data and facts, not gut feel or assumptions. If you can provide the key point to how and why you got somewhere (coupled with the constant communication above) people will tend to react much better.
  • Come prepared with options – it is very easy to push a problem to someone else, but chances are good they won’t like it. This goes even more for management, making “your problem” theirs will not win you any points. Coming in with a number of potential options that are well thought out and have the impacts, and both pros and cons identified with a recommendation determined are much better received and demonstrate someone with a proactive approach and who is a problem solver. The key here is to be a solutioner, not just a reporter.
  • Ask for what you need – telling people what you need is just the right thing to do. It is hard, because sometimes we feel like we need to do it all ourselves, or that this admits weakness, or lack of skill on our part. The true question here should be do we want to see our projects and teams fail, if success could easily be within our reach. It is unfair to assume that our project sponsors or executive teams will know what you need if you don’t ask for it. Couple this with the solutions steps above and it allows our management teams to make educated decisions and evaluate potential trade-offs that can impact their business.
  • Throughout the project lifecycle keep repeating these steps – this is not a one-time activity, it needs to be applied constantly and diligently through the project. It is easy to get wrapped up in our day-to-day activities and loose site of the big picture. Taking a step back and allowing think time can often make all the difference.
  • Be sure everyone on the project team follows and practices the process – everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction for the overall project to succeed. By setting this standard you allow people to build a sense of team and trust, without having to worry about recrimination. It builds confidence and allows skills to be enhanced, creating better project capacity within the organization, which is just good business.

Based upon our experience as consultants, most people and companies are reasonable, given reasonable situations to work within. We believe that this approach is both sound and reasonable and will keep your people and projects moving forward toward the success you expect and need. Keep in mind, not every project will be smooth, and not every project will be bad either. Usually it is a combination of both, which is true for life as well. If you position yourself to be able to address challenges as they arise, with a good plan and a consistent approach, you will be seen as a champion, a driver and an asset to your organization. As a result of this, you may find yourself as the go-to person in your company with a reputation for handling difficult situations with diplomacy and aplomb. Be prepared to take on even bigger (and scarier) projects than before. Just maybe, you will find out what you could do if you aren’t afraid, and that is a really nice place to be.

P.S. the book I referred to is “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg.

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