This month we have a guest article from Katherine Ericsson. Kathy’s Project Management Office (PMO) metrics are exceptional and featured in Chapter 11 of The Handbook of Program Management.
Noisemakers, Great for Parties, Not for Projects
I always have and still do enjoy a good party with lots of friends, laughter, and those initially wonderful, but eventually annoying “noisemakers.” I have come to realize, that noisemakers are not just at parties, but also in the work life of a Project Manager.
I was a few years into my formal project management career and was given my first Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Program. I was new to the company, just getting to know most of the stakeholders that would be decision makers on my project. After meeting all of the steering committee members, and working through the project planning cycle with them, we came to a consensus on the schedule. Everyone was ecstatic, including Mark, the VP of the Sales Division who was at every planning meeting, and a strong contributor to the solution we were implementing.
We were implementing multiple modules of the software system, one of which would include Mark’s team’s incentive plans. In preparation for one of the steering committee meetings to release the 1st funding milestone, I met with each stakeholder individually including Mark to review the deck and address any questions and or comments they might have. Mark had none.
The day before the steering committee meeting, I sent the deck out and solicited any incremental content, and/or questions. Mark had none.
The following day, at the beginning of the steering committee, as I got to the 4th of 9 slides, Mark stopped the meeting and asked why the incentive plan release was booked at the end of the 2nd quarter for go live…..hmmmm… during 3 months of planning, preparation, and multiple reviews of the schedule and the recent review of the deck, I consistently called out the date with Mark (which was the same date he chose at the beginning of the project planning activities).
Mark then took the opportunity to share with his colleagues (3 other VP’s) and two C level executives that the 2nd quarter was historically his team’s biggest quarter and that the transition to a new incentive module during that time would be too disruptive. He proceeded to present charts and historical data that he believed supported his concern. He then challenged the rest of the steering committee members to consider changes to the schedule so his team would not risk making the whole company look bad with numbers that might be lower due to such a distraction….
Mark was my noisemaker!
Fortunately for me, the other members of the steering committe meeting who were also heavily vested in the other modules included in the larger rollout were not willing to change the schedule.
During the remainder of the project, Mark would consistently disrupt the steering committee meetings with challenges that were, for the most part, insignificant to the program as a whole, but he felt the need to challenge the project and the other stakeholders on decisions that had already been made.
By the end of the program (18 months), the modules were delivered as scheduled, there was no notable disruption to the business. Mark the noisemaker then became the biggest cheerleader of the new sales incentive system.
Over the years, I have been witness to more noisemakers; they come in all shapes and sizes, and frequently have been at a higher level of the project governance. I have had many Project Managers come to me for advice in avoiding or placating these “noisemakers."
There have been many “creative ways” to minimize the noise, such as isolated conversations that drill into warranted or unwarranted concerns that may or may not be brought on by the project. Sometimes a noisemaker just has a desire to stand out and command the attention of their colleagues (and a steering committee venue can be a breeding ground for such behavior if not nipped in the bud).
No one solution fits all if you must deal with noisemakers, and keeping a history of meetings, decisions and not backing down from blustering while leveraging the goodwill of other stakeholders are definitely necessary.