Improving Telecom/IT Project Management Results:
Stop Managing Timelines and Start Managing People
Trudy Nyden, Business Essentials and Associates, LLC, September 2005
Most Telecom/IT projects begin the same way. A project manager is assigned, budget is allocated, people resources are secured, equipment and software are purchased, and a Microsoft Project Plan (or similar) is built. From there, the difference between a successful project (meaning one that is delivered on time and on or under budget) and an unsuccessful one is often a complete mystery. Why do some massively complex projects succeed while other relatively simple projects fail miserably? Yes, executive and corporate commitment to projects can enhance the probability of success, but it is not a guarantee. More than likely, the answer is the method used by a project manager to “run” the project. Where there is a focus solely on timelines rather than people, danger is near.
Many project managers approach a new project with “zero” enthusiasm. They may or may not understand how the project can benefit the business or the company. Likewise, employees assigned to the project view it as yet another task that must be juggled along with all other duties. It is the job of a successful project manager to set the stage, create excitement, share the vision, and, in short, lead people to accomplish what they may doubt is possible.
Begin the project with a presentation that includes not just the technical details of what is being installed but how the system will be used, who will use it, and how it will improve the department or company business. If the project impacts revenues or customers, explain how. Follow it up with a realistic but challenging target date and define why it is important to meet the date. Granted, technical people may not be jumping out of their seats with this information, but it will give them a framework for the future and their part in that future. Finally, if the project manager clearly articulates how he/she will drive to the target, it builds confidence on the part of the team and creates a willingness to participate.
Once the team members have been identified, the successful project manager becomes an amateur psychiatrist, able to read quickly the strengths and weaknesses in the team and then exploit or minimize these to the project’s advantage. Some team members will only respond to micromanagement while others will wilt under constant surveillance. A good manager intuitively will be able to spot the differences and discover ways to wring the best performance out of all. At times, it may be appropriate for a project manager to allow a team member to “fail” in a task (as long as the failure does not significantly impact project progress!). Small failures become great opportunities to learn and offer the team the chance to devise creative alternatives to overcome a small set-back. This has the added benefit of further developing a cohesive team.
A successful project manager is a good and constant communicator. While email has become the preferred method of “communicating” in our fast paced project environments, it is often email that creates chaos in a project. A project manager faced with mile-long email threads has accomplished little other than to allow pandemonium. At the first hint of email chaos, the project manager should shut down the exchange and convene a huddle. Face-to-face is ideal but a telephone conversation or conference can work equally as well. Often an email exchange that has filled the better part of a day can be resolved in minutes and will result in a better solution to the issue at hand. These quick huddles or spontaneous meetings or phone calls can also be used effectively to move the project details quickly along, particularly if a team member is missing dates or stonewalling. Most people, when dealt with directly, will respond with the requested information or action. If not, the project manager will gain insight into whether a management escalation is required and when. Finally, informed teams work more efficiently. A skilled project manager will thoroughly update teams as projects inevitably take twists and turns.
Another essential component of successful project management is building teamwork. Leading, informing, and encouraging participation, will all create a positive and productive atmosphere. But creating an atmosphere of fun will contribute as well. Providing snacks at meetings, personalizing team interactions and developing group jokes, and celebrating milestones help to build spirit and keep the project moving forward.
It can become difficult while in the middle of a stress filled project to view status objectively. At times, the challenges can look insurmountable and unchecked challenges and/or action without clear vision can result in disaster. It is the job of the project manager to step back and simply observe the team and the myriad of issues facing them. The solution can be as easy as simply boarding the issues, methodically weighting them, and soliciting input for their resolution.If the team is managed well, the team members will develop an ownership of the project and pride in their collective accomplishment. At project completion it is important to celebrate their collective success. This may take the form of lunch, awards, but most importantly, executive recognition of the achievement. The successful project manager will be the main coordinator for the post implementation rewards with the resulting benefit of people lining up for his/her next project.
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