Thursday, 21 November 2013 00:00

Lost Leaders, Perplexed Project Managers, and Trampled Team Members

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Picture of perplexed PM

The other day while preparing for an interview with Fortune Magazine, a junior colleague asked, "When recovering a failing project, what are the role differences for various people in the organization?" Great question! I had never sat down and captured that aspect of project recovery. After all, failed projects are a hodgepodge of lost leaders, perplexed project managers, and trampled team members. Without defining everyone's roles early and continually refining those roles, you will struggle establishing calm in what is otherwise a very stressful situation.

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Projects take more than managers, they need leaders. Leading is a special set of skills that one needs to hone and develop. We have numerous white papers on the topic. One, Transforming Project Managers Into Project Leaders talks specifically about what a PM must do to become a leader.

Order To The Approach

To discuss the topic with her I drew a table (see inset) on one of my white boards. It was quite enlightening. It ended up that there was a priority in how a recovery manager would utilize the team.

There are three layers to this onion. In order of application, they are direction, effectiveness, and efficiency. Direction imbues the vision to the team and ensures people are working on the "right thing." Effectiveness is the act of actually doing work and getting the desired results. By setting direction first, you have a level of confidence that the tasks people are working on are the right ones. Hence, effectiveness follows direction. Once the team's operations are tuned and they are following the right processes, then technology's efficiency will be a benefit. Never start by adding tools to make something more efficient. It will only amplify the bad things you are doing.

Lost Leader

Lost leaders regain their footing by resorting to the basic principles of leadership—defining vision, making decisions, and motivating the team. Faced with a disaster on their watch, they are probably struggling to regain footing. Get them focused on vision. Without defining what the project is going, it will never deliver value. Help them make decisions by working with the team members to get objective data. These two actions alone will set the foundation for re-building energetic, cooperative, and focused culture.

Perplexed Project Manager

Project managers are only perplexed if they follow a methodology as if it were a dogma. Project managers are facilitators that have hundreds or thousands to tools in their toolbox. They coordinate and prioritize thousands of pieces of data to ensure projects deliver value. This means that they must adapt to the multitude of changes in any project. They cannot try control change; rather, they must manage it allowing it to flow logically within the time and cost constraints. As a conduit, they drive direction from leadership to the team and distill information from the team to leadership.

  Lost Leader Perplexed
Project Manager
Team Member
Step One: Direction
Leadership Lead
Ask how you can help, remove roadblocks
Lead up & down:
Assign task and demand results in both directions
Lead up:
Ask for help, mentoring and clarification
Vision Define the vision Disseminate the vision Implement the vision
Decision Making Make decisions Facilitate making and implementing decisions Provide objective data to make decision
Culture Define the culture Carry the message Adapt to the new culture
Step Two: Effectiveness
Required Tasks Ensure alignment Question alignment Understand tasks relate to goals
People Prioritize projects Get the right butts in the right seats at the right time Be honest and help others
Process Do not Micro Manage Use tools, not dogma Never use process as an excuse
Step Three: Efficiency
Technology Do not suggest solutions Use technology as a tool, never use it to solve a problem Do not over implement
Table 1: Role Responsibility Matrix

Trampled Team Member

Gravity works—everything flows downhill. Frontline troops, whose primary responsibility is to build the product, take the brunt of everything that is wrong in the project. The accelerations, the right-angle turns, the stops, the starts, and, unfortunately, all too often, the blame for the projects woes are constantly whipsawing a troubled project's team. These are the people, though, that must take the new direction and deliver value from it. Ensure they know how they are involved in the recovery. They have the information on what is right and wrong. They will provide the data for decisions and in turn tell you how new decisions will affect the outcomes. They simply need to be asked for the information and have the new vision and decisions explained. Given that respect, they will deliver you the value.

Utilizing Your Entire Team

When rebuilding a project, or for that matter an organization, utilizing the entire team is paramount. Too often, we only focus on a small subset of the team and forget that everyone needs direction. Just the action of asking them what they think is wrong starts rebuilding the already wounded team. Everyone has something to contribute to the recovery and it is incumbent on the leader to engage them in the recovery. Engage and lead your team and success will be a lot closer.

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