Sunday, August 12, 2012

Conflicts in a Professional Services Organization


Project Managers hate it, but…..
In any organization, you will have conflicts that are sometimes professional, and sometimes not so professional. Project Managers (PM) in Professional Services Organizations (PSOs) are no exception to this unfortunate reality. Whenever you have a close relationship and combination of Sales, Senior Management, and Project Teams, you may have more than a few instances of conflict. The question is, how can one reduce the number of conflicts?  The answer is by communication.
Communication to Reduce Conflict
There are a number of beneficial communication steps that can be taken to help reduce the number of conflicts between PMs and Sales and/or Senior Management. However, before I begin, I would like to mention a disclaimer. It could come to pass that none of the steps I am going to mention will work. However, if you institute these steps, you must devote 100% of effort to them or else they may fail. However, if you devote 100% of effort to these steps, not only could they succeed, but they could exceed your expectations.
Communication with Sales
First, the Sales and Project Teams must realize that they may be singing from different hymnals. Sales have quotas that must be met. Sales must meet their numbers, and they are incentivized by commissions and bonuses. Project teams are concerned with the triple constraint of their projects, which includes their budgets. 
The part of the project that Sales and Project Management meet is project initiation. If the Scope of the project has not been defined during project initiation, the Project Manager should be involved in developing that document. This will begin the transfer of the project from Sales to the Project Team.  In that meeting, all discussions Sales have had with the client’s project sponsor must be disclosed. What must be discussed in detail are the issues the client has discussed with Sales, which may be risks to the project. Also, the Project Manager wants to understand what was promised to the client. Now, I am not saying that Sales may sell a project that may be difficult to deliver within the triple constraint, but that the PM must understand what the deliverables are. The Statement of Work (SOW) must put the deliverables in writing and must specify what is in scope and especially, what is not in scope. 
This begins the “partnership” with Sales, but does not end the conflict. This does however, begin to alleviate it.
Communications with Senior Management
The conflict with Senior Management is usually with schedules, resources, and of course, project priorities. The most effective form of communication with Senior Management is the Status Report.  In this Report, the PM must show the conflicts that he or she is having with schedules, resources, or priorities in the form of a Red, Amber, or Green designation. Here is a caution for the Project Manager: Make sure that not only the project sponsor is aware of the conflicts in a project as soon as they occur, but most importantly, that the PMs direct Manager and Senior Management is aware of them. There is an old adage in project management that there are “no surprises.” What a Manager hates more than anything is to be “blind-sided.” The PM must keep his/her Manager in the loop as soon as a potential hot issue comes up. This is not an excuse to cry wolf. The PM must know the difference between a hot issue and just an issue, and these must be discerned in the Status Report.
Conflicts in schedules, resources, and priorities may come from Senior Management, with their ever changing priorities dictated by Executive Management. We all know that priorities change from the top and PMs must make the best of the cards that are dealt to them. However, PMs must be able to communicate the effects of these priority changes on their projects. The Status Report is the best method to do this.
In Summary
In all of communications, getting to the point is important, especially with the audience I am speaking of above, Sales and Senior Management. Details are also important in this area, but pick the audience for the details very carefully. Sales wants to ensure that the project stays on schedule and that there are a minimal number of issues. Senior Management is concerned with resources, specifically the effective and efficient use of them, and that all issues are being managed to the client’s expectations. All of this must be done effectively and succinctly.
In all, PMs must be effective communicators. If communications is an issue with you, speak to a mentor or check out a local Toastmasters International chapter. You do not want to fail for any reason, but you do not want to fail because you failed to communicate.

 If you would like to comment about this blog, please do so by responding in an email at Benny A. Recine, or if you would like to publicly comment in this blog. I will respond as soon as I can and you may inspire a blog article.

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