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Sunday, March 30, 2014

First Project, First Success

     This was an orphan project, wandering aimlessly back and forth among four stakeholding corporate partners. It didn’t meet the budgetary threshold for the sponsoring organization’s formal project management, and it didn’t fall into any other practical slot.
     Still, it was important for other reasons, not least the company’s reputation with the other partners.
     A restless sales manager in that organization was just completing project management training he had undertaken to support a possible career change. Well, his boss said, how about seeing how you can do on this project?
     Here’s how it went, in his words:
     In approaching the project, I strictly focused on getting the team’s buy-in. I needed to first see who I would be working with.  In working on and being a part of many projects, I have found that some members of the team play a more critical role than others. 
     While there were four key groups comprising the team, the most crucial came down to what had the potential to be true “wild cards,” two union technicians.  Every other member of the team all had their own superiors to report to and pressure to achieve the goal of the project in a safe, timely and quality manner.
     The two were the only available people officially trained and certified to do the actual installation work. They knew the job, the locations and workers for all of the companies involved. 
     Although I understood what the goal of the project was and who I needed to work with, I wanted a better understanding of the actual work that needed to be done. 
     I started via email to the technicians, introducing myself as the Project Manager and asking to meet with them so we could go over:
A)     Where they stood with the project, as they had known about this prior to my assignment;
B)      What they needed from me to make their jobs as smooth as possible;
C)      The information I had obtained from the customer.

     This worked out as being my single most successful and important piece of the project. 
     The guys had been sent in circles for a few weeks and were not being given any direction.  They welcomed coming to meet and we spent two hours going over layouts, needs, frustrations, options on making things better – for them AND for the end result. 
     As I got into the project, there were problems with one of the stakeholders. This manager would overpromise, not listen to the advice of the technicians who were trying to advise him and then blame everyone else when the project fell behind schedule.
     I had heard about this behavior beforehand, so I met with him personally to review roles and responsibilities.  It was clear he was the boss, in his eyes, and believed we were all working for him.  
     I tried a couple of different approaches with him after not making any progress and then went to what I had heard about, but did not think I would have to use: confrontation.  Not physical confrontation, but confronting him with the facts:

A)    We were behind because the equipment he had promised in June was not              
       available in August;
B)    I would not tolerate him feeding information to other stakeholders that my company was not holding up our end of the project;
C)    I had documentation that showed he was misinforming other stakeholders.

     I was not sure this would work.  It was not the approach I had planned on taking, but at this point had no other choice.
     He backed down and we worked fine from there.  
     Here’s the fairy tale:  The project was successful and completed on time and safely.
     Now the really ironic part:  Yesterday – no joke – that guy called me after about five months of no contact and asked me to work with him in leading another project!  
     The outcome also attracted favorable attention in my own company. Apparently I had done something right.

     End of guest report.
     The story says something about preparation meeting opportunity. In this case, the aspiring project manager may never have gotten the lucky break if he hadn’t been known to be gaining project management knowledge. And, of course, when he needed project management knowledge, he was prepared.
     The example also illustrates the important fact that true project managers are problem solvers. When something isn’t working properly, they volunteer to take responsibility for fixing it. They engage the situation directly with practical measures that cut directly and professionally to the root cause.
     In this case, the engagement included thoughtful planning, effective communication, conflict management, stakeholder relationship management and consistent follow-through.
     I’m especially pleased that the newly minted project manager, as his first act, sought out the most critical stakeholders, and worked to achieve full understanding with them. Then he tackled the most difficult problem.
     While not everyone interested in project management can expect to run into something quite so suitable, the attitude has universal application:
     Get yourself ready, stay alert for opportunity and, when there’s an opening, go for it.

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