Advice for project managers

We have something new this month: a monthly advice column that addresses the hard and tricky business of managing projects—whether you’re an official Project Manager  or someone who is charged with  leading a project to its successful delivery. Our advice-giver is one of the best PM coaches in the biz: Elizabeth Harrin, known for The Girl’s Guide to Project Management blog.

Dear Elizabeth: I’m working on a project for a new, big customer and one of our stakeholders is asking us constantly how things are going and micromanaging in a way he hasn’t done before. What is the best action a project manager can take to instill confidence in stakeholders? –Aggravated

Dear Aggravated: In a word: communicate.

People tend to micromanage when they aren’t hearing what they need to hear. The best way to resolve that is to ask your stakeholder exactly what she wants and then give it to her.

You may find that she doesn’t know what she wants; she just knows that she isn’t getting it yet. You might have to try several different iterations of your communications approach before you settle on one that works best for both of you.

Your situation sounds as if your stakeholder isn’t the kind of person to micromanage normally, so she’s probably feeling more nervous about this big project. It’s really important to work in a climate of “no surprises.” There’s nothing that undermines confidence in your ability to manage the project and work with a stakeholder than when she turns up to a meeting and learns important information that she should have known the day before.

Make sure that your stakeholders knows what you know. If she’s particularly interested in the details of this project, give her access to the schedule and the project management software so she can see updates in real time.

Check in regularly to see that she has all the information she needs.

As the project progresses, and you keep her updated, you’re likely to find that she backs off; but if this doesn’t happen, and you have a good working relationship, tell her that he’s micromanaging and explain the problems it’s causing! Together you can find ways to make sure the project is managed effectively, and help her feel confident in the work being done. You just need to communicate, and provide easy access to the plan.

Dear Elizabeth: Of all the IT projects I’ve worked on in the last five years, only one has come in on budget and on time. What do you see as one of the most common mistake made by project teams working on IT projects? –Overworked  

Dear Overworked: First, you are not alone! Many, many projects have their budget and schedule changed during their life cycles, so it is not unusual. That’s often because the scope has changed, rather than because the team was incompetent (and I’ll assume that’s been the case for you too!).

From my experience, the most common mistake made by project teams working on IT projects is that they don’t involve the end users adequately. Ideally, you should have an end user involved in the project for the life of the work. The reason behind this is that you need to make sure that what you’re delivering is going to add value and be used by the people it’s intended for. It’s very easy to gold plate a project (in other words, to add in extra functionality that the client didn’t ask for) or to interpret a requirement incorrectly. Having someone there to constantly pull you back to the core objectives and the requirements really helps.

The second most common mistake is around estimation. This might not be a mistake as such as a miss. Many IT projects have a unique element and that makes it hard to estimate accurately. Plus, organizations aren’t particularly good at learning how to estimate and then applying that routinely to improve estimates in the future.

Dear Elizabeth: I’m getting promoted to start managing a team next month. What do team members most respect (or need) in their project leads?  –New Leader

Dear Leader: Congratulations! That’s fantastic news. The great thing is that you’re already thinking about how to make a good impression, so that’s a very positive start to your new leadership position.

Right, let’s get to your question. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy answer because everyone is different.

Generally, the things people respect and need from their project leads are:

  • Openness
  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Integrity

I call these the four pillars of leadership. Be open about information that comes to you from your leaders and share what you can. Be honest with people and tell them when you can’t share information or can’t act on something. Trust others, and be trustworthy with their confidences. Act with integrity.

In reality, everyone on your team is a separate individual. So while these pillars form a great base to work from, talk to your team members about what they need and expect from you. Meet each one individually and ask questions around needs, expectations and how you can support them. For example, it might be important for one person to meet with you regularly. Another team member might have certain expectations around reporting, or specific processes needed to complete their work. There might be occasional personal circumstances that one team member might ask for around, say, parental responsibilities.

So, two approaches: Talk to your team individually and set expectations that work for each person, and then set boundaries and ground rules for the team as a whole.  And make sure you include the expectation to have some fun!

Do you have a question for Elizabeth?

Send your questions about the hard stuff and tricky business that comes with managing projects to MarketingTeam@liquidplanner.com with the subject “Advice Column.”

Wait, there’s more! If you want practical solutions to common PM problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

top 9 project management challenges
Advice Column for Project Managers: Being Micromanaged and Overworking was last modified: September 9th, 2016 by Elizabeth Harrin