Tag: team

Can You Delegate Stakeholder Management?

As a busy project manager, the more tasks you can delegate to skilled subordinates, the better job you can do handling the responsibilities that are left on your plate. However, there are some project management functions that don’t lend themselves to delegation. That’s not always because someone else can’t do them. Occasionally, it’s because of the perception it would create if you don’t put in the “face time” in certain aspects of the job. In general, stakeholder management is one of the areas where you have to visibly take charge. Otherwise, you may be perceived as:

  • A poor communicator
  • Someone who doesn’t want to take responsibility
  • Unavailable or unapproachable

In U.S. culture in particular, companies may be expected to have an “open door” policy that makes managers accessible. It is particularly important for stakeholders outside the company to have a consistent point of contact with someone who is viewed as being able to get things done. Clients, vendors, lenders, and partner organizations need to know that their concerns about a project are being taken seriously.

PMs Shouldn’t Shield Themselves Too Much

Excessive use of “gate keeping” that prevents stakeholders from communicating with a project manager directly may cause unnecessary escalation of issues that might otherwise have been easy to resolve. What type of access stakeholders will have to the project manager should be decided as part of communications planning. For example, all mid to high level stakeholders may need to be provided direct contact information (email address and phone numbers) for the project manager. That way, they can bypass perceived red tape in the process of resolving issues.

Having a policy in place of responding to stakeholders within 24 business hours is a good practice in project management. This doesn’t mean the problem has to be resolved immediately; but a discussion should be initiated as soon as possible to avoid delays in the project schedule. The responsibility for actually fixing a problem can certainly be delegated as long as accountability is maintained. An action-item log should be created to document and manage the resolution of issues. This permits the project manager to:

  • Clarify the issue with a focus on the solution
  • Assign the responsibility for resolution to a team member
  • Set a target date for closure
  • Follow up to ensure the issue is resolved

Internal, Low Level Stakeholders

Managing communication with internal, low level stakeholders often requires a slightly different approach. There may be situations when stepping in to fix a problem actually undermines the authority of your direct reports. Generally, it helps team cohesion for team members to resolve non-critical issues on their own. Overdependence on leadership in project management can negatively affect both productivity and worker satisfaction. So, team members should be encouraged to take responsibility for fixing problems within the scope of their authority and ability (without breaking any company rules).

This type of internal delegation works best when team members all have a good grasp of the “big picture” and the critical objectives of the project as a whole. That way, they can rely on common sense in differentiating between an easily fixable problem and a crisis. Team members should always document any issue and the steps they take to resolve it so this information is available later if needed. The communication management plan should identify a chain of command for who will handle any problems that escalate beyond the ability of lower level staff to resolve.

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Project Management Tips For Joint Ventures

Project management is chaotic enough when you are the sole manager in charge. If you are participating in a joint venture with one or more partner organizations, things can get really complex. There’s more to creating a successful outcome than simply defining who does what within the scope of the project (although that’s an important first step). You also have to determine how the work will get done and how problems will be addressed.

Communication and Documentation

For many projects, it’s helpful for all participants to use the same platform. Project management software that permits remote access to authorized users from multiple organizations may be a helpful tool for ensuring all parties have access to the same information. An ideal solution is one that permits collaboration while restricting data access to those who “need to know” within the hierarchy of each organization.

One area where having everyone use the same software can be particularly beneficial is in reporting. If you have two or three project managers who each have a different idea of what’s going on with the schedule and cost, this makes effective communication about necessary course corrections difficult. When there is greater transparency, accuracy, and conformity in the reporting process among partner organizations, this promotes accountability.

Quality Control

Maintaining a high level of quality in a joint venture is particularly challenging if the project is designed in such a way that each party can pass the buck for getting things fixed. Organizations can hold very different ideas about of what constitutes an acceptable level of quality assurance. Company ‘A’ might think spot checking components on a finished product is all that’s required. Such an organization may have no real strategy in place for what to do if they find a problem other than going back to the drawing board. Company ‘B’ could have a full QA department that incorporates quality planning into the project from the outset including detailed analyses and an action plan for making required adjustments along the way to ensure quality targets are met.

Such a disparity in methodology can lead to conflict. If company B is “downstream” from company A, company B may be stuck trying to fix a problem company A didn’t catch (or risk having scheduled work significantly delayed). If company B does its portion of the work first and company A subsequently fails to deliver on their end, the client organization may blame both parties equally. To avoid these pitfalls, the party with the best track record for quality management practices should have some input regarding what will be considered acceptable QC for all parties.

Wrap Up Session

The project management teams from all organizations involved should (if possible) be part of the post-project session to capture lessons learned. The knowledge that can be gleaned from the successes and failures of a joint venture is particularly valuable since it involves so many variables that simply aren’t a factor in simpler projects.

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The Role Of Expert Consultants In Project Management

Successful project management is always a team effort. However, sometimes this team isn’t all in house. For larger and more complex projects, it is not unusual for even an experienced project manager to require outside assistance to help with the planning  process or to perform some of the work. When is a specialist worth the extra expense?

The Need is Temporary

In some cases, the expert knowledge required is only needed for the project at hand. For example, a project for a large telemarketing organization might be to implement a new suite of software applications for call routing, billing, customer service, etc. The necessary IT leadership resources for such an ambitious project are unlikely to be available on staff. The current IT personnel may be generalists or might have been hired mainly for their familiarity with troubleshooting the existing system.

Creating a full time position to fill this gap can cost much more in terms of total compensation than hiring a consulting firm. An added advantage of sourcing an expert to collaborate with existing team members is that the firm can share responsibility for ensuring a successful project outcome.

The Issue is Complicated

Project management planning is only as good as the information it is based on. In some situations, contracting with an expert to collect data that will be used in scope planning and scheduling makes sense. This might be the case when industry-wide information on a specific topic is needed. An outside consultant with lots of industry networking connections may have a better chance of compiling accurate statistics and other information for use in planning than someone on your staff.

Risk identification is an example of such an area of expertise. A ‘blind spot’ in risk planning can lead to disaster. This type of mistake is particularly likely when historical information is low (e.g. when the current project has little in common with previous projects). A third party risk assessor who does not have a financial stake in any risk protection coverage purchased may be able to offer more accurate insights and strategies.

Potential Problems with Hiring Consultants

There are a number of potential pitfalls to consider before investing in an outside knowledge expert. First, this can represent a significant expense. With a tight budget, it can be difficult to justify hiring a consultant for the planning phase when (in the minds of some stakeholders) no visible work is produced. They may question why you need to pay for advice since you are the project management expert and “should already know all this stuff”. Let the consulting firm share the burden of making the case that their services are necessary and valuable.

Second, bringing in an expert may create friction with your team members. This is especially true if someone on staff feels that they are being passed over in favor of an outsider. A consultant should not be hired unless and until you have fully explored the resources available in house. Acknowledge each team member’s expertise in their field and reward their contributions. Also, make it clear that the role of an adviser is to help out – but that your team will be taking the credit for a job well done.

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A Poor ‘Lessons Learned’ Approach Can Impact Actual Learning

Once a project is completed, it can be tempting to simply wash your hands and move on. Looking forward to the next thing down the line is usually much more exciting than reviewing what’s in the past. Sure, basking in the glow of a job well done feels good. But scrutinizing the things that didn’t go so well isn’t enjoyable. Nevertheless, documenting lessons learned and implementing them is a critical part of project management. How can you ensure that this task is done in a way that promotes learning rather than discouraging your team?

Build Good Capturing Habits

If your team hasn’t been collecting data throughout the project, you won’t have much to put in your lessons learned knowledge base at the end. By that time, much of the wisdom that was actually gained about successful and unsuccessful strategies has been lost. Trying to recapture all this information at the end of the project is a time consuming and flawed approach. It will make everyone feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

The initial project management planning stage is when a process for gathering lessons learned along the way should be determined. For simple projects, this may be as straightforward as instructing each team member to keep a journal documenting insights throughout the life cycle of the project. For more complex projects, this documentation responsibility may be bundled into another process such as Quality Management.

Be Careful With Phrasing

Remember that the next team you work with will be reviewing the lessons learned by the previous group. Plus, the current team will also need to go over these materials. This means the documentation should be carefully written to avoid placing blame on specific people if things went wrong during the project. That way, the process of review is less intimidating and uncomfortable for everyone. Any necessary discussions about individual errors should be done in private rather than being made a permanent record in the lessons learned database.

Here’s an example of the wrong way to write a lessons learned report:

“Project management assistant Gary Ross failed to coordinate with HR on a simple scheduling task. This created a serious delay of 2 weeks and probably cost the company a lot of money. This employee has been reprimanded and received remedial training on how to do his job properly next time.”

Here’s an example of a much better approach:

“An initial decision was reached regarding scheduling based on partial information that resulted in a delay of 10 working days. Further investigation revealed that pertinent information readily available from Human Resources was unintentionally overlooked in the decision making process. Future schedule planning will include a consultation with HR to ensure more accurate results.”

As you can see, using a passive voice in writing makes it easier to achieve the objective of teaching in this situation. It is possible to outline the known facts about a mistake and how it will be avoided in the future – which is really the important information – without publicly shaming anyone. This is key if you want your team to be forthcoming about their mistakes in the future.

On the other hand, you can mention specific team members who contributed lessons learned about highly successful strategies. It’s a great way to recognize individuals who have done an outstanding job. Team members are more likely to participate eagerly in the review process when they know that this is where their achievements will be recorded for the purpose of improving future projects. In effect, they get to be the teachers!

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Human Resource Logistics Tips

Working with a multi-site team can make project management difficult at times. When people who have never met are expected to collaborate, there’s always the potential for a feeling of disconnection between team members. It is the project manager’s job to ensure that logistical issues don’t impede the achievement of project objectives.

The Personal Touch

If team members at a satellite location are within reasonable traveling distance, it might make sense for you to make the trip out to chair an occasional meeting at that location. This gives the remote members a sense that they:

  1. Need your leadership
  2. Deserve your attention

This helps reduce the feeling of being “orphaned” for members who are not located at corporate headquarters or another main hub of activity. It also gives you an opportunity to meet with your “second in command” at that location to solidify this critical relationship. An in-person assessment of the project management processes actually being used on the ground at remote sites helps you make sure that all locations are on the same page.

Virtual Conferencing

Email and phone conferencing are still excellent communication methods for virtual teams that are spread over multiple locations. However, there is something to be said for video conferencing. Body language accounts for a huge percentage of the informational content people communicate to one another. It is much easier to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings when team members can see and hear each other. That’s especially important in meetings that are convened to discuss things that have gone wrong in a project. It’s also beneficial to have access to visual cues when not all team members speak English fluently.

On the down side, having video equipment that doesn’t operate properly is worse than not having video capability at all. Starting every meeting with a 20 minute wait while IT figures out glitches is a very bad idea.

Realistic Expectations

When working across time zones, team members need to realize that not everyone will be on the same schedule. In situations where employees are on different sides of the International Date Line, confusion can lead to missed deadlines and conflict. Clarity of communication can keep these situations from arising. This is actually a statement that holds true throughout every area of project management. Team members working in different locations should always state the specific date and time of an anticipated event. For example “Let’s shoot for getting the plan documents completed by 4 PM, EST on Friday the 16th of June”.

Even with these challenges, project managers shouldn’t overlook the benefits of managing a geographically dispersed team. The more far flung employees are, the greater variety of perspectives they will bring to problem solving. This is a resource that PMs should recognize and utilize to enhance both the team’s practical ability to overcome obstacles and to inculcate a sense of team spirit.

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Tips for Managing Your Ever-Changing Project Team

One of the trickiest aspects of project management is that you can’t count on having the same team members every time. Depending on the nature of the project and the rate of turnover at your organization, you may have to integrate new members into your team with some frequency. At the Human Resource Planning stage, you should start strategizing ways to ensure everyone works together smoothly. Then, you will need to monitor and adjust your approach as you get to know your new employees better.

Review Feedback for Compatibility Clues

If your organization uses some form of 360 degree feedback, you have a wealth of information at your fingertips regarding the strengths and weaknesses of each prospective team member. Even if you can’t pick and choose which employees are assigned to your project, at least you can use this historical feedback to help you make decisions about which individuals should work together and what their roles should be.

For example, if you have one employee who is consistently praised for paying attention to detail, that person could be tasked with reporting on work status for his/her group. Another employee who has received multiple warnings for tardiness might not be ready to take on responsibility for meeting a critical deadline without additional supervision.

Make Newcomers Welcome

If only one or two people are being added to your team, they may feel like outsiders. Having well-defined processes in place is a good thing from an efficiency standpoint. However, it can make new employees who are unfamiliar with your methods uncomfortable. They may feel defensive about constructive criticism or unprepared to learn a whole different set of rules. Acknowledge this challenge and address it by:

  • Assigning a peer as a mentor to each new team member to help them with acculturation
  • Providing basic educational materials about how your project management process works
  • Taking time to explain core concepts in meetings instead of assuming everyone is up to speed already
  • Encouraging new members to ask clarifying questions either during or after each meeting if they don’t understand something

Address Conflicts Immediately

If a team member comes to you with a complaint about a coworker, take it seriously. Often, employees will wait until they are really fed up before they go to management to ask for help with resolving a conflict. When their concerns are dismissed instead of being addressed, they will transfer some of their anger and resentment at their coworker onto the manager who ignored their request for help. You don’t want to become the enemy. As a project management specialist, you should already have a decent set of communication skills. Put these to use in resolving conflict before it escalates.

Get to the bottom of what’s really bothering your direct report by using reflective listening and asking questions that focus on solutions. For example: “I hear you saying that you find it disruptive when Henry comes by your desk several times a day to ask you questions about his assignment because he tends to be kind of long winded. Would you like me to instruct him to communicate with you via email if he has a request or question?”

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