Active Project Management; Facilitate, Don’t Dictate

It is estimated by the Project Management Institute that 90% of project management is communication. The tasks involved with setting up a project, identifying sponsors, defining resources, schedules, managing risks, and critical paths are all important elements of large complex projects. Facilitating the team’s communication channels is the single most important effort of a good project manager.

Rudyard Kipling once wrote “… the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

A wolf has to support the pack but also has to be able to survive on its own abilities. When building project teams the goal is to assemble a “pack” with different strengths and opinions that can perform at their own peak level. A high performance pack has strength through the members of the project team.  An effective Project Manager needs to assemble individuals into a pack (or work with an existing pack), provide constant and useful communication, and assist as needed to guide them to their end goal together.

Five tips for building a better wolf pack:

  1. Listen
  2. Value ideas
  3. Positive thinking
  4. Try to close all conversations by asking what you can do to help
  5. Have a sense of humor

Preparing for project kickoff meetings creates an opportunity to listen to the team and get them engaged. An important part of pre-planning a successful kickoff is soliciting the team’s input and providing opportunities to talk about the project’s risks, schedules, and goals. The sooner the project manager begins to listen to the team rather than detailing his or her own thoughts on the project, the more likely and quickly the team will become engaged. Soliciting input from a diverse set of stakeholders substantially increases the chances of full engagement of the project team.

In addition to the project management role of ensuring the project meets the triple constraints of Scope, Time and Budget, taking an approach as a facilitator and understanding and deploying your team as a collaborative resource and working to integrate their skills will provide a more complete 360 degree, holistic view to the project. The project manager plays an important role in encouraging and engaging opportunities for collaborative conversations. The team’s input will allow for better commitment and buy-in from the stakeholders and the team, and ultimately better position the team to successfully meet pre-defined project objectives.

A Project Manager needs to rely on previous project experiences as well as foundations built from credentials (e.g. PMP certification). Often, tasks don’t flow exactly as expected and decisions are often made outside of planned meetings; however it is important to leverage meetings as a means to collaboratively check-in with the team on any decisions made, the impact of the decisions, and to establish meeting minutes as the reference point for the projects. The meeting minutes provide an important, literal “power of the pen” which enables Project Managers to lead and guide the project team.

On a recent Virtual Desktop Infrastructure project installation, there was a new member representing the customer’s infrastructure function, and this caused a sudden shift in the project deliverables. While a customer is not always right, the customer is most certainly paying for your ability to understand, adapt, and communicate changes within the team and manage to the approved Scope. In this particular example, the focus shift was remediated by adjusting weekly meetings to a daily standing meeting which provided for relevant and timely inputs and buy-in from the diverse team members and allowed for a very quick process adjustment and consensus for achieving Scope deliverables.

A Project Manager also relies on the team to identify critical project information in order to ideally circumvent any issue before problems may occur. When issues do occur, facilitating conversations and soliciting input from the team, both informally and formally, are usually far more effective than a project manager declaring a solution. A project team where teamwork, loyalty, and communication are the norm can provide a “howling” successful project.

 

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