You’re managing a project, and it’s not going well. Deadlines are being missed. The deliverables aren’t meeting quality expectations. The most frustrating part is you have no authority over, and may even be junior to, the people who aren’t following through. You always deliver, why can’t they?
Welcome to project management.
I love project management: uncovering why problems are occurring and creating systemic solutions. Three lines of questions reveal the answers to many problems.
One: What is that group or individual trying to achieve? What’s their goal?
The people and groups you’re managing are probably juggling a lot of other responsibilities. Do they really understand their role in the project, what they need to do, and when? How can you make it easy for them to deliver? What training if any is needed? Can your step by step process by understood without a lot of reading? Is it appropriate for the audience so they don’t have to shift through irrelevant details?
Most people want to do good work and meet expectations. Unless you ask or have worked that job recently, you probably aren’t aware of what expectations people are trying to meet. Who are the key managers and customers for that group? What expectations is the group trying to deliver against?
Two: What beliefs and assumptions are driving their actions?
A key role of project management is resolving conflicts. Often unspoken beliefs and assumptions drive behavior. If follow-through is an issue, do the groups believe in the project? Do they believe it’s possible and worthwhile to achieve the project goals? If not, what are their concerns? Do they feel they can raise concerns and have them be heard?
Where does this fall on the individual’s or group’s priority list? Do they understand the consequences of their actions on other people working on the project? Are the time frames realistic and achievable for every group given everything else on their plate? If not, what adjustments could be made?
Whose expectations are they trying to meet? Are they striving to meet actual requirements or an ideal state? How recently has the person or group confirmed the expectations?
Three: How else can the goal be achieved?
Once you have gathered the information in steps one and two, often alternative paths become quite obvious. Be thorough in checking before implementing. Often procedures were put in place for a specific reason and the current players may not know the reasons.
Before moving forward with a new approach, try and identify all the players that could be impacted and run your proposal by them. The impacted groups may not be a part of the project you’re managing. Don’t be shy. Ask them, with your manager if needed, whether your proposed change makes sense. This demonstrates depth of understanding of the business and a desire to avoid unintended consequences.
As these three lines of inquiry become second nature for you, you’ll see your project goals getting achieved. You’ll build more collaboration and understanding between departments. These types of leadership skills and results get noticed.