Friday, November 23, 2012

How to Overcome Communication Difficulties

You are the Project Manager (PM) on a critical project and one of the first things you have done is introduce yourself to the project sponsor. You have put together the communication list and the communication plan. You had the project kickoff meeting in which you discussed the project scope and the mission of the project.  The project has begun and is in the planning stages.

As soon as the project planning begins, one or two members of the team begin to ask questions that you believe were answered during the kickoff meeting. One person begins to question the scope of the project and the mission derived from the scope. This is where the PM has to spend valuable time, once again, to discuss the scope and the mission. This interruption to the normal flow of the project happens often in your projects. Is it the way you communicate? Are you too quick and skip the details that some members consider important?
Now, before you lose all confidence in yourself, you have to review your communication skills. If you find that you do have to improve your communication skills, I suggest Toastmasters International as an excellent non-profit organization that I have been involved with for almost 20 years.
However, it may be that some members of your team are habitually disruptive and argumentative by nature. You may have users that are part of the project team that were not part of scoping the project and do not feel that they are not part of the team nor that the project is a positive effect on their daily work. What can you do as PM when faced with these problems?
Dealing with the Disruptive Team Member
Every PM or line manager has had to deal with a disruptive employee. A line manager has Human Resource tools at their discretion to deal directly with a disruptive employee. A PM does not have the same tools that a line manager has, but must deal directly with the disruptive team member. For a PM, this is a tightrope that must be walked very carefully. Here are some steps that a PM can take:
·         Speak directly to the disruptive member.  Confrontation is not something that most people look forward to. However, we have all had a run-in with the individual who seems to argue for argument’s sake. A PM must confront this person before other members begin to become disillusioned with the PM leading the project. Appeal to the member’s sense of team unity and mission objectives.

Do not reject this suggestion out of hand. If the PM has conducted the kickoff properly, the PM should discuss the benefits of the project, the uniqueness of being selected for the team, and the need for unity and team work. These points should be important factors to the member. Being part of this project can benefit the member’s career. These should be the topics that the PM should bring up and hopefully influence the member to rethink their approach to the project and to other team members.

·         Speak to the disruptive member’s manager. This has to be done gingerly as not to make the manager feel you are overstepping your bounds. First, you must inform your manager of your decision to meet with this manager about a problem employee. Next, you must ensure that you are prepared with details regarding your attempts to give the disruptive member every opportunity to change their disruptive ways and what your expectations are from the meeting with the members’ manager. If the member is still needed on the project, the objective is to convince the manager that he/she speak to the member to consider a different approach to the project. If the member’s actions are considered more disruptive than the member’s contributions are needed, then the PM must request that the manager remove the member from the team. 
·         Demand that the member leave the project team. The last step is to remove the disruptive member from the project. Removing a resource is the last thing a PM wants to do, considering how difficult it is to replace a resource. However, it all the steps you have taken have not worked, the PM does not have a choice. Throughout this process, the PM must be taking notes and make sure that all interactions are documented for any HR needs.
In all of this, the PM must keep his/her composure to ensure that he/she is viewed as the manager who wants to keep the project moving forward. The risk is that the resource may make this personal. The PM must keep above this type of discussion. In the end, the project will fare better without this resource. The PM must keep the good of the project and the rest of the project team in mind to ensure success.
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 Benny A. Recine.You may inspire a blog article. I look forward to your comments.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Difficulties for a PM in delivering bad news

No one likes to deliver bad news, but it is a reality of the project manager’s (PM’s) professional life. In a project going along very well, the first issue may be the worst to accept. In a project that has gone yellow or possibly red by missing project deliverables, this can add more angst to what already exists in the project. In an already red project, more bad news brings morale down even further such that no one on the team believes the project will ever meet its objectives.
If this sounds familiar, then join the club of PMs in a bad project. There is a proper way to deliver news no one on the team wants to hear, however bad it may be. Unfortunately, it is easier to take the low-road and join in the chorus of the “we will never end this project” naysayers. As the PM, you must stay above the fray and have a clear vision of the next steps and the end or even the closing of the project.
Be honest and transparent
The first mistake most PMs make is to sugar-coat the problem(s) and issue(s) of the project. The other project resources will see right through your attempt to downplay the problems of the project. I cannot stress enough that the PM can be empathetic, but must have a vision and road map to complete the project.  Even if the PM doesn’t have a clear vision, the next task is to bring the project team into the solution process by asking them to draw up the project road map based on the issue(s). If the members of the team feel that they can contribute to the solution, they may come up with the best way to get the project out of the red. However, be clear and honest about the project’s issues and the roadblocks ahead. If the project team understands the gravity of the problems, then they can address their solutions properly.
The PM must also be honest to the client and senior management, especially to the client and project sponsor. They must be on-board with your road map to resolve the issue(s). The job of the PM here is to get the client and project sponsor on-board with the plan to resolve the issue(s) and complete the tasks and project. Without their support, the PM will be fighting windmills and will not be successful. He must also get buy-in from senior management of his organization. That should be an easier task than convincing the client or project sponsor. However senior management, along with sales, must be aware of the plan and the risks.
Be direct and realistic
It was Yoda who said “do or do not, there is not try.”  In this case, that must be the PM’s motto. If in fact the project team believes there is a “silver bullet” for the issue(s), the PM must be able to bring them back on task if the resolution, however good it may sound, is not realistic. The PM must be tactful, but direct and realistic. What does the schedule allow? What are the expectations of the client and project sponsor? Are the team members willing to risk the complete failure of the project? What are the benefits, if any? These questions must be asked, discussed, and answered. Here is where the PM must take copious notes. The PM must be able to refer to these notes and logs of the events. They will be the PM’s best friend later when questions arise.
Be very clear
This is not the time for the PM to become verbose or too descriptive. The PM must be clear, or as we say, use “go or do not go” type of answers. There must be no confusion whatsoever. Speak up (don’t yell), and make sure the project team understands what you are saying. Bad news is tough enough to deliver, but to be misunderstood in delivering the news makes a bad situation much worse.
It goes without saying that no one enjoys delivering bad news. It does come with the management terrain. Do not forget that, as a PM, you are the manager of the project. The PM only has some of the privileges of management, but all of the accountability. You either have the wherewithal to conduct the management of the project or you do not and part of the job is delivering bad news.  
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 Benny A. Recine.You may inspire a blog article. I look forward to your comments.