Project Management Wins: The Good, The Bad and Preventing the Ugly
Project management is sometimes called conflict management
Once upon a time a new, in the middle of a project that was progressing exceptionally — things were being done well, on deadline and everyone was happy — a new, third-party owner showed up without warning and unrelated to the project’s quality.
The new owner’s way of communicating was to yell and accuse. They found fault not just with the work, but with the people doing the work and the insults quickly became personal, persistent and completely demoralizing.
Sometimes project management rides a smoothly through the project: the deadlines are met, the client is happy, your team is cooking, and sleep comes easily. Other times, in walks a project problem. It can happen at the start, it can happen midway, and it sometimes happens deep into the work.
There are a few ways that project managers can prepare ahead of time to avoid conflict and manage stressors between all members of the team.
Stress surfaces differently for everyone and it is impossible to know what will trigger the people on a given project. However, the worst way to react to an already volatile situation is to fire back with personal attacks or defensive behavior.
One way to handle a stress-filled project management situation is to pull team members aside early and discuss the fact that sometimes things get heated, people need to yell, and that it is likely coming from other influences and has little to do with the current project or project contributors.
It may sound glib and simple to tell staff members not to take another person's hostility personally, but a clear statement about another person's unhappiness can, and often does, put the situation in perspective and can help to de-escalate the problem.
This project management dynamic mentioned previously served as a learning opportunity for the project team. It illuminated how hostility makes everyone feel and how not to run a project or meeting. It also offered everyone the chance to make a pact to conduct meetings and phone calls with more than one person present. In doing so, it eliminated blame and the misunderstandings that can happen in a one-on-one conversation when one person is upset.
Avoiding the blame game
A successful project manager makes sure blame is never part of the equation. Instead, team problem solving not only renders negative people disempowered, but the very act creates a bond and empowers the team working together to fix the issues.
Blaming is easy but it solves nothing. Blaming escalates a situation and makes everyone retreat further into their respective corners as they dig in to emphatically protect their position.
Great project managers jump into conflict because they know it only grows and will cost time and money if not resolved. If people can avoid focusing on who’s to blame and instead focus on the problem, solutions often present themselves. Team members will come together and quickly find answers when the group is steered toward finding a solution.
Preventing the ugly
A team is comprised of human beings and humans' frailties. Sometimes people have witnessed blaming on other projects or jobs. Sometimes workers think it best to completely avoid conflict. Sometimes avoiding conflict blows everything up makes the situation worse.
Project management is sometimes called conflict management and realizing that a major portion of project management is to solve problems before they happen and address them as quickly as they appear, helps to smooth the rough waves when they do happen.
In project management, don’t play the blame game and don't avoid problems until they become too hot to handle. Focus on the assumption that everyone does the best they can with the information given and everyone wants to succeed. Discuss this philosophy with the team and inform the group that everyone will focus on potential solutions, pick one and move ahead together.
This approach will help you focus on a win/win mentality. If everyone gives a little, the outcome from a true team effort is better overall. The team is happy to know that it can flex together toward a positive outcome, which helps everyone be happy, satisfied and confident when faced with challenges on future projects.
Tony Smith is the president of R&R Engineers.