It's a Project Manager's World Newsletter with Dr. James Brown
      May 2010 Full Moon Edition      

Below is an article from one of my clients you will find valuable. - James

Six Leadership Actions that Made this Project Successful

Dennis Peters

My project team had just successfully delivered a project with a myriad of challenges (global in scope, multiple customers and users, tight budget and schedule etc.)  A colleague that was aware of the challenges and had observed the project from start to finish asked me to document what I did as a leader to help ensure success while it was fresh on my mind.  Here are the six items I shared with him.

1.     Strived for balance:

 All aspects of the project are important, but we didn’t lose our entire focus to any one area.  Training, organizational change, software configuration/technology, process definition, financial management, vendor management, team morale, etc.  If I saw one of these area’s slipping, that’s where I put the focus.  I’ve seen other projects that spend most of their focus in one area, and don’t tackle the area that is the real problem.  Either they’re scared to tackle something they don’t fully understand, or are afraid that someone else will tell them they’re wrong, or just don’t like doing it, or something!  But a project can’t handle this attitude.

I didn’t care if someone needed my help to badge in the front door with security, or if a Steering Committee member needed to hear the truth about the impact of one of their decisions… I made sure the gaps got filled… and to clarify, I never jumped in to take over what one of my team members was already doing well, even if it was personally fun to me.  If they know their job, I got out of the way and made sure the road-blocks were out of their way!

2.    Utilized/optimized the resources we had:

With 35+ full-time and another 40+ part-time people the team clearly had individuals with a lot of different strengths… and weaknesses!  I put a lot of effort into leveraging the strengths people had and lining them up properly to our scope of delivery.  In areas where the overall project had deficiencies, I chased down new resources with zeal.  While I tried very hard to match people to their strengths, this also meant that I…

3.    Tried VERY HARD not to give somebody an assignment in an area that was their weakness.

 Sometimes I got complaints from other team members that so-and-so was weak in a particular area.  When I heard that I always defended the person, commenting on their strengths, and trying to set the right expectations when I knew it was an area they were not well equipped to deliver.  I was also honest with people to their face about their weaknesses. 

People know their weaknesses, and generally they would laugh when I told them “Hey, you stink in this area, and you don’t even like doing it!  So stop beating your head against the wall!!!”  But, if you allow the gossip about people’s weaknesses, they know it, it spreads like a virus, and morale/efficiency goes down… you got to stop it FAST!  Don’t allow the gossip, and don’t keep forcing people to deliver in their weakness!

4.    Was willing to put my reputation on the line:

I don’t really know if this is always smart, but so far it has treated me well.  For our stakeholders I was willing to make commitments when I was > 50% confident in a successful outcome (which isn’t very high!).  But… I also shared with them what the risks were, so they knew I was committed with eyes wide open.  Obviously if something failed I would be in hot water with them, but at the same time they knew I took it seriously. 

From my team’s perspective, they were aware that I was entrusting my reputation to them and their work.  I personally believe that this gave them a pride, confidence, and a desire not to miss their objectives!!!  I haven’t had to deal with a failure yet when I couldn’t deliver on a personal promise… I’ll let you know how painful that is when/if it happens!

5.    Delivered the hard news… but with hope:

No project is absolutely perfect, and this project is no exception.  In the first release we did miss one expectation from our stakeholders that I had to come clean on.  Warnings to our stakeholders were given ahead of time, but people didn’t listen (which is only human nature).  Then when it came true, I told them what we had to do to get out of the mess.  Nobody was happy, and quite frankly it lowered trust with the stakeholders.  The only thing you can do in this situation is come clean, and buckle down to repair it.  We did this, met all of our second release objectives, including the clean-up from the first release, and now we all look like hero’s. 

Too many projects aren’t willing to come clean.  This just compounds the problem and prolongs the resolution.  Dumb.  Come clean, but show that you are willing to sacrifice to resolve the issue.  This brings hope, which is all you can ask for at this point, and allows the team to keep working from a position of integrity.  Also, notice that I said “I” came clean for the expectations “we” missed. 

Your team has to know they are in the boat with you… but they also have to know that the buck stops in one place… with YOU as the leader.  Don’t blame your team to the outside world because it’s really YOUR fault!  But, hold your team accountable internally.  If they don’t know where the problem came from they can’t help you fix it.  THEY have to fix it, but YOU have to make sure it gets fixed.  Tough, I know… but if you’ve got a better idea, I’d love to hear it!

6.    Spent personal and financial capital for team building:

With a global project it is not always practical to get the whole team together face-to-face.  This adds a complexity to the communications, consistency of vision, ability to collaborate on topics, etc.  Sure, we use our share of video conferencing, IM, VOIP, wiki’s, etc.  But, at the in-between times when I didn’t do team building or face-to-face meetings attitudes started popping up such as “that’s not my job” or “that team didn’t deliver, so I need to wait” or whatever… Nothing ticks me off as project manager more than this attitude and quite frankly it is a symptom of a weak team and a warning sign that treacherous waters are ahead.

 When I did pull the teams together, I re-focused them on our common goal.  I re-iterated our strategy.  I re-connected people that I knew should be talking, but hadn’t been talking recently.  And, I reminded them that failure falls on the shoulders of the PM.  PERIOD!  A team acting like twits doesn’t just reflect poorly on them individually, it reflects on me, and thus on the whole.  So, cut it out and get back on track!  Success or failure is largely binary.  We’re either viewed as successes or we’re viewed as failures.  When you don’t do team building, you start increasing the risks of failure because people start forgetting how the whole puzzle has to fit together, and why the project has to have people with all different strengths.  Personally, I want to be viewed as a success… thus, I want my project to be viewed as a success…. thus I want my team to be viewed as a success.  Are you starting to see the common thread, yet?

Copyright 2010 Dennis Peters

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