7 Things you need to know in leading a project
Roll with the punches
The first issue in managing a successful project is that you need to be willing to roll with the punches, often in project management or leadership we have a cognitive bias, that little voice in the back of your head that tells you to stand your ground but it’s important to ask yourself, does this data change my understanding, does this data change their understanding?
Adapt your approach based on facts on the ground, when facts change, change your approach.
The needs of your people are greater than the salary they are paid
Remember that the top-down approach of yesteryear is being phased out as millennials and gen z are more focused on a flat structure in business. People don’t look for pay, they look for potential.
Relationships between leadership and subordinates are more informal than yesteryear and it’s important to set boundaries around being polite but not pals.
Don’t allow a subordinate to manoeuvre around the guidelines and procedures set in place. Friends forgive and forget; make exceptions to mistakes, leaders do not. Support the person in the right way with real-time feedback and development. It might sting them at first but it sets a precedent for ensuring we are all operating under the same benchmark
Feedback is a gift but we often focus on development more than we focus on points of praise. Ensure you recognize the efforts of your team whether that be through an email, shout out in a team meeting or something with a monetary value attached (gift/bonus et al).
Ensure you are leading and not managing
Have you ever asked a child to clean their room? I asked my daughter to tidy her room and when she was upstairs I heard a large bang. I ran upstairs to see what was happening and she had dropped a large princess castle she was trying to put back on the table and I said it was her fault because she should have been more careful moving it. But in reality, I should have checked the task I was asking her to perform beforehand and broken it down into things within her capability to do and helped her with the parts she couldn’t.
The same should happen when managing a project, I follow the ERAM model – expectation, resources, ability and motivation.
- Does the individual understand the expectation of the task at hand?
- Do they have enough time, equipment or information?
- Have they demonstrated the correct skills and knowledge to undertake the task?
- Are they motivated enough to complete?
Remember that its important to look on the Brightside and reacting badly when bad things happen, which tend to make things worse.
Understand the needs of your people
Create a purpose and acceptance, we are hard-wired to want these. It’s in our hierarchy of needs. Understand what motivates them, what demotivates them.
There are 4 types of people:
- Logic – those who want autonomy and fear failure
- Collaborative – seek respect and shy away from conflict
- Idealist – Cherish fairness and humility
- Risk-taker – Follow gut instinct and get bored easily
Cooperation doesn’t just happen, you need to create an environment where collaboration and team spirit is being fostered by everyone involved in the project. Your role is to ensure they are constantly putting the “team-first” rather than their individual work without devaluing the specific work they are undertaking.
It’s tough, but tough is not impossible
Remember my story from earlier about Olive, my daughter?
Well, I have another daughter and her name is May. I didn’t ask May to help clean the room because well, she’s still very young (I tell myself) but the truth is, May shirks work and tends to procrastinate a lot. She doesn’t realise she’s doing this though and she sees any effort made as sufficient. And much to my shame rather than look to tackle that, I used to ignore it. But then my other daughter started to realise that there really were no consequences of not trying.
In reality, when this happens in the workplace and colleagues are underperforming, you need to understand the reason for this – use active listening, by this I mean replay back what the person has said and checked your understanding of the situation. Validate this by asking for evidence; if they say they’re stretched with other projects, engage with other project leads to understand their POV. Ascertain if this is a personal or professional problem. Remind the employee of policies in place to support their conundrum. Once you have reviewed the support available, guide them through how things can improve – what that looks like, how that can be measured, how you can support, how colleagues can support.
Process trumps timelines
The means don’t justify the end, we can often be so focused on timeline delivery that we start to accept slippage in all other areas to facilitate this from happening. Its key to remember that there are tried and tested methodologies for delivering projects successfully and disregarding control, approach and governance in the name of dragging a project over the line rarely, if ever, bears the right fruit.
Let’s say you have a daily huddle which is for 15 minutes, the objectives of this meeting are clear – precise updates on each activity being undertaken and call out any risks, issues etc. if people keep derailing the meeting, or deviating from the agenda, it’s important to keep them on track and not allow conversations to devolve into ambiguous chit-chat.
There are 4 ways in which you can manage this behaviour, starting from most favourable through to most severe:
- Reinforcement of positive behaviour, people are following process, governance and methods in place. Be sure to call this out so peers can see this as the preferred modus operandi
- Non-response, items that aren’t prescribed and are subjective (e.g. soft skills), you can leave these slide to allow those to have autonomy over their work.
- Negative reinforcement, someone is straying from the herd, follow up with a private conversation/email/feedback with corrective action
- Punishment for the most severe of breaches; DPA breaches etc that need to have a formal conversation
Ultimately there are horses for courses and if you need to manage peoples behaviours it’s key you use the correct action to do this.
Failure is inevitable
Imagine you have been entrusted to give a presentation to a C-Suite member of the organization and you haven’t interacted with someone of this level before, you can set up for success by working with colleagues who have this skill set, the role the presentation with them, get feedback, present to senior members of your own organization; give yourself the best possible opportunity to overcome “imposter syndrome”.
Project managers/leaders need to build an environment where failure is accepted on the proviso that none of the aforementioned or latter points is conflicted with.
Avoid analysis paralysis, there will always be a degree of uncertainty and the truth is we can’t have all the answers all of the time. It calls into question in our subconscious that we aren’t capable of performing the task because of unknown variables and the best way of overcoming this is to ensure people are supported and given the correct mentorship.