The following is adapted from The Irreverent Guide to Project Management.
Every successful team has a robust set of tools to back up their efforts. Skills, expertise, experience, confidence, and passion are essential to seeing a project through to a happy ending. But there are some tools that hang out at the bottom of the toolbox, promising to break or wreak havoc the first time they are put to use.
If you want a project that’s smooth sailing, it’s better to confiscate these tools before everything gets underway. Here are two common, but harmful, tools that every project manager should keep an eye out for. By ridding your team of these tools, you will significantly increase your chances of running a project where every member of the team is more successful..
The “I Didn’t Know” Tool
Communication is essential to a functional project, and when communication breaks down, it’s hard to get everything back on track. During a project, there are a lot of moving pieces: tasks, team members, client expectations, and more. These pieces can be difficult to manage, but it’s crucial that everyone knows the project status, the task completion percentages, and any necessary updates.
When there’s a lag or a gap in communication, that’s when the “I didn’t know” tool becomes the wrench in the works. Any time a team member says “I didn’t know,” that means that money, time, or both have likely been compromised.
If you want to take this tool away, then you should try to publish an updated Work Plan and a status report at least weekly. The exercise of compiling the status gives the Project Manager the information they need to lead the charge in the coming week and provides the project team with the information they need to prioritize their efforts. If you don’t send one out, people will have to guess what they need to work on, or they’ll choose to focus on a project with clearer priorities.
In my experience, project team members follow the leader: the Project Manager that has published a report and clarified their priorities. Remember, no news is always bad news!
The “I Haven’t Started It Because I Don’t Agree” Tool
This particular tool is a little trickier, but it’s an important one to watch out for. When a Project Manager is developing a Work Plan, it’s inevitable that there will be some disagreements about the tasks, task durations, or any number of other factors. You don’t want to totally disregard team members, but at the same time, you want to proceed in the most efficient, effective way possible.
I have found that the best approach is to interview the team members that will do the work to identify the project details and to take notes on paper. As the subject matter experts, team members are the best qualified to provide the detailed information needed to complete the project and having the team members that will complete the tasks define them makes it much easier for the Project Manager to keep them accountable during the project. This will head off their “I don’t agree” tool at the pass.
Additionally, it is very important that no one sees any portion of the Work Plan until the Project Manager has gathered all the details from team members, built a complete Work Plan, and allowed the Program Manager (who is responsible for supervising a group of projects) to review the document.
I repeat, no one. If the Work Plan has already been reviewed and refined by the team members, Functional Manager, or Project Owner, changes can’t be made to it. If the Work Plan can’t be revised, then it is impossible for the Program Manager to quality assure the document. Feedback for improvement can’t be incorporated without frustrating someone on the project team.
Rely on the Best Tool: Intentional, Well Thought Communication
Remember that communication is the only tool that a leader has. If you really want to get rid of the clunky, broken “I don’t agree,” or “I didn’t know” objections, you need to put something better in its place. Well oiled, clear communication can defeat these potential obstacles every time. Listen to team members, keep them updated, let them know how things are going, and explain your methods and approach so that they can understand them.
When your communication tool works well, the whole machine will run much more smoothly. No project is flawless, but your team will feel like they have control over Project direction and purpose, and they will tackle their jobs with confidence.
For more advice on leadership tools, you can find The Irreverent Guide to Project Management on Amazon.
From the start of his career spent jumping out of helicopters as a rescue swimmer in the United States Navy, J. Scott has a long history of leadership, servanthood, and bearing witness to the transformative power of getting shit done. Since starting 120VC he's personally overseen the global transformational efforts within organizations such as DirecTV, Trader Joe's, Blizzard Entertainment, Sony Pictures, Mattel, and others. His team's unique, irreverent approach to change has generated breakthrough results and created meaningful jobs. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, J. Scott is a devoted husband and father and author of "It's Never Just Business: It's About People," and "The Irreverent Guide to Project Management," both available on Amazon.com.