Peter Taylor is the author of several project management books, most notably "The Lazy Project Manager".
Delegate, prioritize and focus on what’s important
Working with a particularly demanding team of people the project I was managing some years ago hit a problem. There was an aggressive deadline, and there was a quite aggressive steering committee. The deadline loomed towards us but the technical challenges seemed never ending, as quickly as one was resolved another (if not more) seemed to take its place. The working days got longer and the toll of all this pressure began to cause serious stress faults in the project team. In the midst of all this fractious harmony we hit the problem. If the team had been at full efficiency and working as one I am sure we would have spotted the cause earlier and resolved the issue quickly and quietly. As it was, we didn’t do either. The cause went unresolved and the effects seemed to spiral ever towards being out of control completely. Rapid response meetings were convened and everybody was trying to resolve the issue. Unfortunately this meant that people stopped doing their day jobs, which resulted in further delays threatening the project.
Just when I honestly thought it was all going to implode I had one of those ‘eureka’ moments. I can’t say it was planned and I can’t say it was done in a positive or creative spirit. It was done in a moment when I just had had enough. I ordered various parts of my project team off to various parts of the company offices to ‘go and do their jobs and get us back on track’. Inadvertently I gave a number of people the authority to stop worrying about the problem and to concentrate once more of their scheduled tasks. In addition I was left with one fairly junior technical guy and, for the want of anything else to do, told him to head off to the IT department and find someone who could help think this problem through. And what did I do? Well, I was the one who went to the pub. I admit it, I just needed to escape the pressure and think. I had fallen in to the trap of becoming subjective in all the chaos and panic and I know now I should have remained above everything and objective in my view.
What happened then were three things. Firstly, I had a very nice steak pie, chips and peas with a pint of beer. Secondly, the junior technical guy just so happened to talk to the right person. And thirdly, the issue was initially worked around and later resolved through some third party intervention. I was lucky, the crisis passed and the project staggered on for a while and eventually delivered, later than expected but nevertheless it did deliver. But it did teach me an important lesson – filter what you should deal with, delegate everything you can, prioritize what is left and then focus on what is important. In this case I did none of these things and was lucky to get the result I did. – Peter Taylor, author of The Lazy Project Manager
Virtual team building for project success
What’s different about running project teams remotely?
As In a virtual situation a lot of the power issues that otherwise arise during the ‘storming’ phase can be hidden, so as the leader you almost have to force the matter. If at all possible, make the investment in a “hothouse” face-to-face meeting. By this I mean an intensive, almost 24/7 5-day team experience. Make the business case that this is an investment that will pay off. And by 24/7 I mean not just work but social activities as well, dinners with the team members, activities that bring people together and that are fun and visits to local sights and events. At dinners why not let the team organize the evening plans, what food to get and where to go? Let them work together and learn in simple ways. Based in the individual’s personal ambitions and likes you can bond the group by agreeing goals for each team member that the group can follow, maybe to lose a little weight, or train for a sporting event, or visit somewhere special, or write an article for a magazine – it doesn’t matter what it is just that the team have some insight in to each other’s lives. If this is financially impossible, then you may just have to accept that the ‘storming’ phase will be longer than usual.
Once the team is up and running, what do you do to maintain the virtual team spirit when you can’t just head off to the pub for a beer or two? One technique I have used is the “It’s Friday” email exchange. On a Friday, it is encouraged that all those funnies, Dilbert cartoons, YouTube videos and so on are shared amongst the team. Be careful though -– err on the side of caution of what is funny to whom; culture, sex and beliefs can vary a huge amount in a team. Another technique is to explore what you don’t know about the team members. Each week on the team calls, get one or two to share hobbies or something unusual that they do outside of work hours. Making new connections with common hobbies help bond a team.
Thirdly, rotate the team calls. Don’t take the lead each time yourself, hand it over to a team member to take some time to share what they have personally been doing in the past week There is nothing worse than a conference call that is just a one way piece of communication and you wonder if anyone is actually listening. By allowing the team members to regularly lead the call their interest and interaction should increase significantly. Finally social media can be a great way to maintain a close network of support amongst the team – not least as they progress onwards after the project finishes Who knows, you may all meet up sometime in the future on another new project. – Peter Taylor, author of The Lazy Project Manager
Project managers believe they have to be involved in all the detail
The most common mistake that I see inexperienced project managers make is that they believe, as I did when I was learning the skill, that they have to be involved in all the detail, that absence from a meeting will have a negative impact on the project success, that not being on that call will mean that they will miss something really important. In fact this generally slows things down and a good project leader will identify when and where they need to be involved, where they need to be part of the decision making process and when the project team are more than capable of getting it right. A mature project manager will not commit all of their time but will move to where the project (and project team) need them most, to encourage, to guide, to advise and to motivate – sometimes proactively and sometimes reactively (as issues arise) but always with enough time to prioritize as the project requires. – Peter Taylor, author of The Lazy Project Manager