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Troubled Projects – Out of the Ditch

Process, tools, or people – which are most important? Is it just a good academic discussion? But I warn; down inside of it is lurking the reason that business initiatives turn into wrecks.

It’s always been my beef with business project management education and certification that there isn’t enough focus on what is truly the most important component of successful program management. You would be challenged to find it in their lexicon of project management terms.

Is process important, absolutely.  Obviously it promotes quality assurance and delivery consistency so to enable realizing value from business initiatives. Are tools important – of course; these software’s can enhance the efficiency of managing activities and resources for project management.

But are either of these why a project typically becomes troubled and in the ditch? No.

So why does a business initiative become troubled and mired? ...and how do you get it out of the ditch and back on the road to sure success? Typically, after peeling the onion, this is what’s needed.

 

And that is solid relationship management - people working together well and being managed well. No not such as doing team and stakeholder analysis and making a typical plan of meetings and communications to keep’em quiet and happy. But relationship management that creates a cohesive, cooperative and collaborative environment that enables super-charged teaming producing a climate with the fruits of success.

When it comes to resource management you can have the slickest formula driven spreadsheet that will help track resources time down to the gnat’s whisker, but if you can’t manage relationships well so to lead people into settling in as a smooth running collaborative team, then that resource budget will get blown to bits eventually. 

I remember a customer who had great project management methodology, and it was in detail and well documented readily available online. Process standards were covered. They also had very good enabling tools that were fully functional and leading edge. Tools were there.

But the program they asked me to help them with was a cauldron of drama with issues that were inhibiting the cohesion and progress of the multi-year multi-million program; with news of these traveling all the way up management lines. It was a troubled project in the ditch.

Alas, then we make our entry into these troubled waters and it didn’t take long for some waves to splash on us and get our feet wet real quick; for it was rife with intergroup and interpersonal dynamics and allegiances that previous program management could not get a grip on and was actually propagating.

Items to be dealt with from the get-go were business line managers and team area managers trying to sideline program leadership for their own agendas, the underperformance of team leads and their teams, and the complaining of very career-climbing focused management who was afraid our program corrective efforts would make them look bad, and there was more; all of it centered on people and relationships, not process, not tools, but managing relationships. 

Relationship management is a lot more that putting together a RACI chart with roles and responsibilities and getting signoff. Anybody can do that. Rather it’s about knowing how to facilitate healthy interaction between the people in all project roles so that they collaborate and cooperate to where they become a T-E-A-M, to where Together Everyone Accomplishes More.

As Vince Lombardi, the legendary Hall of Fame National Football League Coach said, “Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.” Managers of business initiatives need good relationship management skill so to enable a project to provide the full value to the business it can.

Back to that troubled program, what were some of the issues that when resolved, got it back on the road to a resounding success? And I lay most of it, at the feet of program leadership:

1. Project management had not fully understood their role in relationship to others and how to appropriately stay within it, thus preventing others from fulfilling their role to its best use in adding value.

2. Project management had not been aware of how to put the right person out front at the right time and then be in the background providing support enabling others to provide their expertise to its fullest.

3. Project management was not aware of when and how to show strong unflinching leadership. There are times on certain things when one as a leader must set an expectation and never waver from it, but others when you just let it go because you know it’s not critically important. In other words, know when to lean in and lean out.

4. Project management was not aware of how to appropriately communicate with all parties involved. No glory lovers, grumpies, screamers, or gossipers need be allowed; just professional, facilitating, collaborative leaders, who know the amazing power of a question with the absence of alienating opinion.  

I’ve managed programs of significant size whatever the criteria used to measure it and small teams as well, and team members from various countries/languages; and I’ve found that no matter the situation, culture or native tongue, that all respond well to being managed fairly with respect and integrity. 

We invite you to email us your comments.

 

that is solid relationship management - people working together well and being managed well. No not such as doing team and stakeholder analysis and making a typical plan of meetings and communications to keep’em quiet and happy. But relationship management that creates a cohesive, cooperative and collaborative environment that enables super-charged teaming producing a climate with the fruits of

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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