I've recently been thinking about many lessons learned while working in high tech new product development. With regards to management, leadership, and team building in a project environment, please allow me to share some of those lessons.
* It is important for PMs, and leaders in general, to lead and manage all stakeholders, often requiring them to manage up the organization. Successful PMs are the ones who take the initiative ("This IS my job"), realizing they still do not have control over stakeholders, but nevertheless they seek to influence and guide them for the sake of the project and the good of the organization.
* A suggestion for an action step that starts at the top and ripples throughout all the components of an action plan to create an environment for successful projects is to get upper managers working together as a team. You can ask them to document strategic goals, establish criteria for prioritizing and selecting projects, and communicate this information among all stakeholders. By asking these questions, you demonstrate initiative to mentor upwards and your interest in helping the organization to perform better. You inevitably can reach the conclusion, "I realize that stakeholders need to be managed, which was something I always thought was not my job, or beyond my control."
* When probing for status, a sponsor or project manager may ask a project team member a "Yes/No" question. However, open ended and probing questions are more effective. To better understand what is going on, for example, ask, "What preparations have you made for the inspection?" or "How have other team members helped prepare for the upcoming review?"
* Here's a suggestion to increase the power of knowledge management dissemination: require a "What I Learned from Previous Projects" presentation by each project manager when assigned a new project. That presentation can be made to the project sponsor, an upper manager business team, and/or to the project team at a project start-up event.
* While it's laudatory to improve your weaknesses in any performance challenged situation, the real payoff—and opportunity for extraordinary results—is to build upon strengths. These are areas that are more natural, take less energy to do, and are easier—all recipes for greater success. It's also good to start any review or plan with strengths. For example, if strategic planning is quite good but the project environment for execution is not, suggest that upper managers include a strategic goal to improve project manager selection and development, organization support for projects, and the project management culture. Use data from surveys to help make your case.
* A good lesson to apply, when faced with the oft experienced challenge of contributing something of value in a tense setting, is to tell a personal story. Nobody else can tell the same story, so by its nature it is unique. Of course, it's important that the story is relevant and contributes some way to better understanding the human condition, even if it's your own admonition to keep or stop doing certain behaviors. Participating in discussions is a great catalyst for story telling and learning. I experienced this in writing business management books with my coauthors. While talking about the material, stories inevitably popped up that could be used in the text. I cherish these collaborative moments.
* With regards to scope creep, demonstrate to stakeholders the consequences of their actions. Find a creative way to itemize the delays, impact on costs, or resource challenges. Just the data...no judgments, emotional outbursts, or accusations. PMs are very close to this information—make it publicly visible and let people come to their own conclusions.
* Apply a negotiating rule about not rewarding intimidating behavior. Invoke tit for tat. When the other party is aggressive, ignore their behavior, take a time out, or withdraw your concessions. When the other party is conciliatory, make generous offers, acknowledge the good behavior, smile, .... You train other people through your own behavior.
* Don’t forget this rule: always get something in exchange for every concession you make, especially when being asked to do more, do it sooner, or at lower cost. Failing to get something in return creates regrets, bad feelings, and poor outcomes. Creativity or ingenuity or good plain business sense may decide on what that "something" is, but never, ever, violate the rule.
* A suggestion for getting responses from stakeholders in a fast paced environment is to address a process for short term requests or changes up front at a project start-up meeting. Solicit suggestions from team members about how they want to operate. When you come up with a "solution", ask team members or stakeholders to commit to rapid responses. For example, people will read the web site or emails daily and respond within 24 hours to any questions, reviews, or requests for changes. Then your job as leader is to enforce this expected behavior (instead of having to beg for responses or do it all yourself).
* A technique I've used when sending out time sensitive material to be reviewed is to say, "If you do not respond within ___ days/weeks, then your default response will be logged as [accepted or rejected]. Pick a default response that will be most detrimental to the person or department; this way you get their attention. The fact that you log default responses means the responses become public record. If people complain, your response is to say you are only the reporter; people have full control over their choice and what gets logged by simply responding to your request. This process helps to engender more accountability, especially when dealing with busy people. This approach is not a case of offending people; it's expressing leadership on a time critical project to keep an important process moving and completed on time. Explain the process up front to people and state it's a condition of participating on the project. You can always give more time on a case by case basis if necessary, but you've set the expectation that people need to be accountable and meet commitments.
* Most of all, life is too short to spend precious time in a miserable job, regardless of the pay or benefits. Find a way to be happy, "follow your bliss," and believe finding purpose and meaning in your job is important. The only thing you'll regret about moving on or making a change is that you didn't do it sooner.
Randy Englund, Englund Project Management Consultancy