There’s a familiar expression about not being able to see the forest for the trees. The inference is that a person can get so caught up in the details that they lose sight of the big picture.
How so? The PMP credential gives you a great toolkit that allows projects to consistently and predictability make it to completion. But, all of the positive things a project management methodology has to offer can have a negative impact if not regulated carefully.
The following is a true story told from the viewpoint of a vendor who was implementing a technology solution in their client’s environment and became too weighed down with details, procedures, and checklists that the big picture was missed entirely. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Project Management Gone Bad
It was the end of a 6-month software development project and we were in the throes of deploying the application across multiple locations. As one would expect, not everything was lining up perfectly and issues were beginning to surface. To help navigate through those tough times, it became necessary to implement a daily status report that was required to be submitted to the Client’s Project Manager (a PMP Project Management proponent) at a certain time each day.
One day, the report was late. Twelve minutes late to be exact. A phone call was made by the vendor PM informing the Client PM that the report was running a bit behind, but that it will be there later that evening. The reason? The vendor PM was on site with the Client’s project team triaging and resolving an issue that was causing a substantial delay…an issue that ended up being a problem on the Client’s side.
No matter. The Client’s PM went up the food chain in both organizations and made a big deal out of the fact that the report was late making no mention of the reason why. This caused unnecessary escalations, took valuable time away from what was important, and strained the relationship between the two project managers.
Now, we’ve all had similar experiences with varying degrees of wonderment and frustration, but there are some lessons that can be learned from the fact that this particular project manager missed the spirit of being a Project Manager. Below are four of them:
1. Don’t Get Caught Up in a Checklist Mentality
Just because a task is on a list that states that it needs to be done at a certain time, on a certain day or in a certain way doesn’t mean that it is locked in stone. All projects are living, breathing entities that ebb and flow like the tide. If you are not aware of this fact, you will push (the good) people on your team away and become relegated to nothing more than a list-checker and not a solver of business problems.
The reality is that things will never go as planned. It’s not that there is always a problem, either. Opportunities present themselves, economies of scale can be taken advantage of, or new technologies become available. Rather than unwittingly marching forward oblivious to these things, always ask if what is next on your list is still relevant and meaningful based upon the changing circumstances and priorities. Working on the RIGHT thing is much more important than just blindly moving ahead and working on the NEXT thing.
2. Give Your Star Performers Some Space
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the equal treatment of un-equals. Some feels that everyone must be treated exactly the same way, at all times, with no consideration of past performance, period. Others feel there is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of un-equals. I subscribe to the latter.
If you have performers on your team who have a track record of success…leave them alone. Don’t poke them with a stick. Let them use their judgment, discretion, insight, experience and wisdom to make the right decision at the right time and give them 100% support. Otherwise, these are going to be the first people that start looking for other opportunities outside of your team.
3. Focus on the End Rather than the Means
The front-line of any project can be ugly. Dates get missed, misunderstandings arise, feelings may get hurt and sometimes people lose their jobs. The front-line of any project can also be beautiful. Breakthroughs are made, friendships are forged, deliverables are inspired and there’s the sense of pride and accomplishment when the team reflects back on a job well done.
Rather than get caught up on all the details that occur on the front-line, get comfortable with the fact these things happen (the good and the bad) and it’s part of the process. All of this jostling and activity result in innovation and completion…which ultimately means the end of the project. We’re not saying that the end justifies any means whatsoever to get there, but rather that everything doesn’t have to be buttoned up with a neat little bow around it to move forward either.
4. Keep the Lines of Communication Open
How much better would it have been in the example above if the Client Project Manager called or went to the Vendor Project Manager and discussed the issue with him rather than blowing things out of proportion? There were all types of extenuating circumstances in the situation above such as technical issues being caused by the Client and not the vendor and the vendor helping them through the situation. If the Client Project Manager had a better grasp of the situation by keeping the lines of communication wide open, much angst could have been prevented for everyone involved.
“Real” communication has unfortunately taken a back seat to pseudo-communication that is fraught with sound bites and inaccuracies. Instant messages, text messages, one word…or even one letter answers, are now customary and expected. Picking up the phone or having a real face to face conversation can put an entirely new spin on work.
The Spirit of Project Management
Moving into the Project Management arena by obtaining your Project Management Professional Certification is no small feat and something you should feel good about. However, don’t miss the spirit of being a PMP Project Management professional and unwittingly relegate yourself to becoming just a checker of lists. The spirit of being a PMP Project Manager is about getting the right things done at the right time, solving business problems and bringing value to the organizations that are fortunate enough to have you on board.
Worse yet, don’t become so unwilling to bend and compromise in your ways that those around you are stifled. Many people are drawn to Project Management because they like the structure and organization it brings to a day. There is a certain predictability of what to expect and usually a clear next step to follow. This gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Truly enlightened Project Managers also realize that it is hard for breakthroughs and innovation to occur in such a structured and rigid environment. They have been able to departmentalize they way they do their work by being very structured and regimented on one side of their brain, while at the same time allowing room for chaos, uncertainty, and a bit of creativity on the other side.
Just remember to not get so caught up in the rules and regulations of project management that you can’t see the forest for the trees. The result will be a project team that respects you and projects that are delivered!
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