Trust is key in any relationship. Each person in the relationship fulfils a role and needs toÂ trust the other person to do their part. Trust becomes even more important during periods of change. Each person has to rely on the other doing their job in uncertain and sometimes chaotic and turbulent situations.
Projects introduce change. So it is true that the two main players of any project â the Project Sponsor and the Project Manager â must trust each other. But with projects, it goes further than that. Trust on a project is three-ways. The first two are probably obvious; the third can make all the difference!
- The Project Sponsor must trust the Project Manager (AKA: Itâs my money youâre spending, you better be doing it right!)
The Project Sponsor is the manager who champions and owns a project, but delegates the management of it to the Project Manager. The Sponsor, is ultimately accountable for the success of the project, but relies on the Project Manager to handle the day-to-day aspects of it. In order for this to work, the Sponsor must trust the Project Manager to manage the project well.
This way the Sponsor can continue to perform his/her normal senior management activities and routines, without worrying about the small stuff. S/he will be kept in the loop through regular reporting and periodic decision points at the end of each stage throughout the project, but otherwise can get on with their day job. Only if problems arise that are beyond the Project Managerâs authority levels, will the Project Manager need to escalate to the Project Sponsor.
The biggest trust issues for the Project Sponsor will be having to let go. Itâs not easy to let someone else manage something you own without having suspicions, second guessing, imagining the worst â just think back to the last time you took your car (that you own) to the mechanic (who managed the repairs). Unless you are related to or know your mechanic very well, there was probably a big leap of faith you had to take to trust they knew what they were doing. You didnât just take the car to âJackâs shackâ in the dodgy part of town, you took it to a registered auto-mechanic with qualifications, recommendations and appropriate licences.
TIPS TO BUILD TRUST:
Delegate correctly: Choose a Project Manager with the right skill sets. Give clear instructions about the project â its objectives, targets, priorities, reporting requirements, and authority levels. Make sure the Project Manager full understands the assignment, reporting requirements and delegated authority limits. Monitor progress and give feedback, when appropriate.
Trial periods: If this is the first time for the two parties to work together, use the early stages of the project as a trial period â shorter in duration and smaller budget than normal. This gives a chance to get to know each otherâs working styles and practises, building trust before moving on to larger, more complex stages when trust is essential.
Mentoring: Mentor the Project Manager, providing guidance, sharing experiences of previous project success and failures, encouraging the development and growth of the Project Manager.
Independent and objective oversight (or Project Assurance): Done by the Project Board (or a designated person or group reporting to the Project Board), Project Assurance monitors the projectâs performance. This independent and objective view provides confidence that the project is being managed correctly and is on track to deliver to time, budget and quality. Regular, independent reviews of the projectâs management will confirm that the Project Manager is managing the project well.
- The Project Manager must trust the Project Sponsor (AKA: Donât even think of micro-managing me! and Donât even think of doing a disappearing act!)
The Project Manager is the hub in the wheel keeping the project rolling and moving towards its objectives, directing work, handling issues and mitigating risks. S/he is the front line for âall thing projectâ. On a day-to-day basis, s/he knows the project the best â who is doing what, are they ahead or behind time, how much money is being spent, at what rate, what are the upcoming activities, obstacles and successes, etc. They are busy guiding, motivating, intervening and sometimes resolving conflicts.
The biggest trust issues for the Project Manager will be dealing with the fear of micro-management or being left holding the bag. Both are awful. A fearful Project Sponsor could do either. If the Project Sponsor is afraid the Project Manager doesnât know what he/she is doing, they will be tempted to put too many controls over them (e.g., daily reporting and retaining all decisions about all deviations, even minor ones). In essence they end up doing the Project Managerâs job, so that one of them is superfluous. Or at the other end of the spectrum, the fearful Project Sponsor will be tempted to hide behind all their other managerial responsibilities, never available to the Project Manager. Basically, they vanish, forcing the Project Manager do their job â making decisions well above their authority limits because there is no one else to do it.
TIPS TO BUILD TRUST:
Being proactive is the name of the game: Show through actions how problems were dealt with and resolved. Summarise the results of these actions in reports, to explain the logic and illustrate good judgment.
Honesty is the ONLY policy: Never over inflate the good or under inflate (deflate?) the bad. All reports (verbal and/or written) should be factual and to the point. If good news is over inflated and caught out, trust is broken. And even worse, if bad news is hidden, under-reported, or buried in other news, and itâs caught out, trust is over. The only prevention is honesty â accurate, fact-based, truthful reporting that doesnât exaggerate the positive or underplay the negative.
Welcome and even ask for feedback: All feedback is good feedback. When given feedback, good or bad, use it. But, use it wisely. Not all feedback is equal.Â All non-existent feedback is bad feedback. So, if youâre not getting any feedback, ask for it. And then remember that the feedback you get will be good feedback (see above), even if itâs bad.
- Both must trust the project (AKA: This better be worth it!)
The third area of trust goes beyond the relationship between the Project Sponsor and the Project Manager. Itâs about their relationship with the project. The project itself has to be upstanding and honourable. It needs to make sense to the business, giving valuable improvements that are needed and wanted by the organisation. The project must also focus on the needs of the stakeholders, keeping them informed and engaged with the pending changes so that they can contribute and adjust accordingly. And it needs to take into account the time and resources available to the project team. Unrealistic, impractical expectations on the team will eventually backfire on the projectâs productivity and success.
The biggest trust issues with trusting the project are that itâs a rubbish project. Rubbish projects are based on completely unrealistic expectations or are pushed through by someone(s) with power, not necessarily by someone(s) with the best business interests at heart. At the end of the day, people will blame the Project Manager for inflicting on them dreadful, unwanted and disruptive changes that failed because they werenât needed in the first place.Â Working on a known rubbish project is disheartening at best and career destroying at worst.
TIPS TO BUILD TRUST:
A valid Business Case: A case must be made to the business that this project will give the organisation more than what it is required to spend. The benefits from doing the project must outweigh all the cost, time and effort associated with it. If the balance goes the other way, it should not even be started. In fact, a case should be made not to do the project.
Professional objectives tied to project objectives: When people see how their efforts contribute to the bigger picture, they are more likely to believe in what they are doing and stick with it. It also helps them see that when things donât go to plan, how the choices they make will continue to support the projectâs goals. Tying professional objectives to the project objectives will also give further incentives to the Project Sponsor and Project Manager to work together, trust each other and finish the project successfully. If the project objectives are too unrealistic, then there will be push back from both Project Sponsor and Project Manager to make them more realistic since there is a personal or professional stake in it for them.
Stakeholder engagement: Stakeholder management aims to push out messages and influence stakeholders about a decision that has already been made. Stakeholder engagement is about giving stakeholders the chance to influence the decision making process.Â By involving the right stakeholders, the right decisions will be made. And rubbish projects wonât even be started.
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