When managing a project, Project Managers are constantly adjusting their approaches depending on who they are working with and what they are doing.Â As I am in the middle of managing one large project and one small one, Iâve noticed some spectrums of different approaches I tend to take. Itâs completely dependent on the situation at hand and the people involved. And more often than not, the size of the project has nothing to do with it.
Sometimes Iâm at one end of the spectrum or the other. Sometimes Iâm oscillating between the two somewhere towards the middle. It all dependsâ¦
Iâm sure there are others, but these are the ones that Iâve recently noticed:
- Silence is golden —to—Talking and telling
Sometimes itâs appropriate to play the part that requires others to explain things to you. Even if you think you know the answers, let them be the experts and make them define what they are talking about. This ensures you are not misconstruing the situation, bringing your own interpretations to what is needed and what needs to be done. Youâre letting (sometimes forcing) the experts to tell you these things.
On the other end of the spectrum there are times when you take charge. You need to tell them how it is and how itâs gotta be. Bring out the big guns. Steer them strongly towards the best option. Youâve done your due diligence. Theyâre just dragging their feet. Put those feet to the fire. Itâs time to move!
- Big old softy —to— Deadlines are drop dead deadlines
Sometimes other things are going on outside and around the project that are taking a toll on the project team. Sometimes itâs okay to cut them some slack. If the project activities arenât compromising dependencies or deadlines, sometimes itâs okay to be a big old softy. Â Other times, thereâs a reason dead is in the term deadline. If you miss the target, things are going to go horribly wrong. There will be consequences! No leeway allowed and pressure needs to be applied.
Of course, in both situations, open communications about the situation are required to help the team understand why youâre reacting the way you are reacting. Set their expectations and communicate openly about your limits and theirs. Or in Project Management speak itâs all about knowing your critical path and your tolerances.
- Now messages —to— Future focused messages
No matter who you are communicating with, your messages have to be clear. But depending on where these people are on the change curve â how bought into the change effort they are, your message has to be different. For those still in denial, anger or bargaining, itâs important to speak about the now. Remind them of the pain that the now situation is causing. Remind them that something needs to be done. This pain cannot continue. Etcetera, etceteraâ¦
For those who have moved on to apathy and acceptance, the focus of your message should be on the future, the possibilities, their place and role in that future. The goal is to keep the message on the goal. Itâs true the future is genuinely limitless, but your project objectives are not. Focus on those.
Iâve recently had a conversation where I started with the future focused message, just to realise the amount of resistance I was getting from my project stakeholder. I quickly moved back to the now message. We built a common understanding of what was currently going on and confirmed a need to change. From which we naturally moved into discussing the future. All within about 10 minutes (if that!).
- Do it yourself —to— Manage others
Sometimes itâs just easier to do something yourself than take the time to describe it to someone else, confirm their understanding, monitor their progress, feedback and review their work. Itâs hard to know when to do something and when to delegate to and manage others doing it.
My three consideration approach works pretty well.
First consideration: I have to actually have the skill set to do the work. Believe it or not, Iâve once or twice (or even more than that if Iâm truly honest) found myself attempting to do a piece of work I was wholly and completely not qualified to do. All in the name of expediency. Ha!
Second consideration: even if I can do the task, it needs to be cost-effective. Iâm normally paid on a daily rate. Most of my team members are staff. As a Project Manager, I need to make sure my time is best spent on managing. If Iâm doing something else in lieu of managing, Iâm not being cost-effective.
Third consideration: check to see if this task would help someone else in their career goals. Just because I can do it and thereâs time on my schedule to do it, still doesnât mean I should. If a team member can grow by doing it, I, as a manager, need to help my team members grow, learn and flourish. A lot of team motivation is done through accomplishment. Let them accomplish it!
- Existing structures —to— Specialised tools
This one is somewhat size dependent. Size meaning complexity of the project and size of budget. If itâs simple and straightforward, standard products such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and email really can fulfil your needs for documentation and communication. You can set up a special folder structure that can help you facilitate management of the project. Easy peasy.
The bigger the project, the more complex it is, the more stakeholders and team members (especially external, virtual and dispersed), the more you need a specialised tool. Your tool should be interactive and accessible. It should be specific to project management, especially in helping you to plan complex pieces of work and to communicate about the project to the various stakeholders. One that has Gantt charts and dashboards comes to mind. There are myriad of free versions for cash strapped projects and enormous, elaborate ones that do âeverythingâ for projects/organisations with larger budgets.
- Playing —to— Working
No, forget this one. This is not a spectrum, at least for me. Play for me means having fun doing what Iâm doing, with energy, laughter and passion. And because I love what I do, work has the same meaning. So this is more of a singularity not a polarity. I strive to have fun, all the time, even under pressure and extreme conditions. Iâve had angry clients crying with laughter, in a good way. I highly recommend this approach.
What are the approach dichotomies you face as a Project Manager and how do you balance and alternate between them?