We are living uncertain times. Managing teams and projects during these times of global market volatility is, to say the least, challenging.
Project management offers a framework for consistency in business, yet there are some circumstances that cause the project’s framework to be challenged and for the project team to be confronted with challenges that weren’t planned for. That can require the team to pull together in stressful and unanticipated ways.
Even during these times of uncertainty, more and more project managers are being asked to maximize ROI, as I’ve previously written about, which adds further stress on already pressurized systems. While no one can guarantee you will be able to come out of a volatile situation completely unscathed, here are several steps that you can take to ensure that you give yourself the opportunity to get your project through to the other side intact.
1. Let go of perfection once and for all
Perfectionism can creep into and jam up a project in any environment. And, in all cases, it is an impossible task to aim for, but it is only when confronted with managing a project through a volatile situation that you find out how pointless the pursuit of perfection really is.
When you find your project and team in a challenged environment, the best thing you can do is to look for the minimally viable outcome that your project can produce to be successful.
This change in emphasis does two things:
First, it allows you to recalibrate your teams’ focus onto making some kind of progress. Typically, when you are confronted with numerous headwinds, the first thing that you lose is progress. And, this loss of progress can be as painful and demoralizing as the challenges that brought on the volatility to begin with.
Second, when you focus on some sort of minimally viable solution, you also find that you begin to refocus on essentials and priorities.
2. Attack your project with short term planning
While you should always start any project by looking at the outcomes that you ultimately want to produce and the way that project fits into the larger strategic mission of the organization, if you are involved in a volatile environment, it is a good idea to try and break your project down into smaller, more manageable bites.
There are several really valuable reasons for this way of thinking, but two that bear attention as most important are: First, thinking short term enables you to keep posting “wins” for your team that maintain momentum. Second, by focusing on short-term attacks, you are able to more easily avoid any potholes that might be just out of the planning horizon.
What both of these ideas offer is agility, which is essential in a volatile market.
3. Communication is king
In a modern project environment, command and control tactics are out, but in a crisis or volatile situation, it can become very easy for the leader of the project to trench in and start trying to corral the project and command it from their perch.
This is the wrong tact to take in a normal situation, but in a chaotic and volatile environment, it is even more troubling and challenging for the project, the organization, and the team.
In times where you are managing a troubled situation or rapidly changing scenario, communications that flows freely can be the difference between success and failure for your teams. This is partly because as a PM or leader, you can’t know and have expertise in all areas of a project, but just as importantly, you aren’t going to be able to keep the pulse of every aspect of your project. So you are going to need to have the input of your teams.
Because this is so important, you might want to emphasize the need for constant contact and communications. And, you probably want to reiterate a communications schedule and expectation so that your team knows what to expect and what expectations are from you.
Most importantly, make sure that all of your communications are clear, concise, and easily understood.
4. Understand your strengths and weaknesses
In a time of crisis and volatility, it is pretty easy for everyone to entrench themselves in their roles and activities. It is also common for teams to lose focus and to start running around from fire to fire.
This type of behavior can do additional harm to the team in the middle of a challenging and volatile environment because it doesn’t take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the team, nor the pitfalls and blind spots that may be lying just out of view.
To overcome this, it is important to really break down the project into short-term goals and to spend time looking at where the challenges are that you can see. And, even when you are in a situation where you can’t foresee any challenges, it is important to think in terms of risk mitigation and risk assessment.
This is where understanding your strengths and weaknesses can be crucial to keeping the project on track.
There are different tracks to take in how you deal with strengths and weaknesses. One stance is to only emphasize your strengths. The other is to work on improving on your weaknesses. But when dealing with an environment with a constant companion of change, it is that you don’t have the luxury of focusing on just one aspect…you need to be prepared for dealing with both.
In these situations, your goal shouldn’t be to look for balance because you are not going to be able anticipate each and every challenge that may arise.
5. Plan to move and react quickly
In a perfect world, things don’t go perfectly very often. In a volatile environment, it is even less likely that you are going to have a perfect set of circumstances.
One certainty of managing through a volatile situation is that you will never be able to plan for an account for every risk or challenge that may come up in a project, but one way that you can take advantage of planning and put yourself into a position that allows your team to act quickly is by working to identify the 3-5 top concerns you have and monitoring for them in an ongoing manner.
This approach will ensure that your team is looking at a few key issues that can derail you and are prepared to deal with them if the circumstances arise. By planning for a limited number of extremely important challenges, your team will be better prepared when dealing with any challenges because by being prepared for the biggest challenges, it makes it much easier for you and your team to redirect your energies if a smaller, less treacherous challenge comes up.
There are no certainties in dealing with projects in volatile markets, but if you follow these five guidelines, you will find the constant change that occurs in these situations much easier to deal with.
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