I have wanted to write this article for some time because I know how important this is to project managers. In IT, the days are long but fast and there is no time to relax. One topic that comes up very often is the question of whether you run a project in the waterfall method or run an agile project. With things moving so fast, ALL projects are agile projects. You meet every day, sometimes several times a day. You discuss tasks, risks, issues and constraints constantly. And you speak on every project with every project member of every project, ensuring that there are no fires to put out. PMs are so stressed these days that taking Valium may be on the daily menu (joking of course).
So how does a PM stay or get calm? I have found the older methods of counting to ten or conduction breathing exercises works. But there are better reasons why a PM should stay or become calm. Your project team looks to you as their leader and if their leader is panicked, they become panicked. This is not what any PM wants.
Cooler heads make better decisions
When we are not focused on the exact issue and upset or angry about an issue or situation, we often make bad choices. This is common knowledge, but not common practice. One of the best methods I have learned to do is to take a step back and breathe, then after about 15 minutes or so then respond. Now this works great in theory, but in practice there are times you are expected to respond immediately. You should do so, but read your response back aloud and think how the recipient will respond when reading your email.
During a meeting, it is best to just listen, breathe and then calmly respond to an individual. If you are perceived as the calm and level headed person, your advice will be taken more seriously.
You don’t want to look like you don’t have the patience to make level -headed decisions. You want to come across as thoughtful and introspective about decision making.
The project team likes to see calm and control, even if you’re screaming inside
The most important aspect of calming yourself is how you are viewed by colleagues and project team members. People want to follow a leader that actual knows how to lead even in difficult situations. This is again common knowledge but not common practice.
I have seen PMs do remarkable things in very challenging situations. I have also seen PMs make horrible mistakes when rushing. I know that there are some projects that demand quick decisions. In these cases, the PM has to make the best choice at the time with the information given at that time. You will be second-guessed and you will come under scrutiny. Stay calm and make the best decision you can make with the information you have at that time. Document that decision and present it calmly. You will come under fire by individuals who think that a better decision could have been made. This is usually claimed by individuals who were no where near the scene when the decision had to be made. Stay calm anyway. Leaders don’t seek revenge or to disparage those that try to disparage you. If you can prove that you made a decision with the availbale data at that time and document it, you can withstand any criticism.
Make this the norm
I cannot stress this enough – MAKE THIS THE NORM!! Yes, I just screamed. No, it was not out of angst. Time and time again, I see PMs make the same error when responding to critical issues that need responses immediately. This does not reflect well on our profession and the PMs that continue this must be counseled. Now, I know that there are times that decisions must be made quckly and sometimes without very much data. However, that is becoming the exception not the norm. So, the PM has to collect all the available data and review the decision, preferably with the project team.
Remember to breathe, remember that many look to you to lead and remember that you can make a documented decision with the data at the time. Do this, and you will be seen as the PM with the calm to lead in a storm.
I am open to discussion at any time on these blogs or anything else related to project management you would like to explore. If you would like to comment about this blog, please do so by posting on this blog or by responding in an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may inspire a blog article. I look forward to your comments.