Big Problem for a Project Manager

This forum is for members to share and gain knowledge of Project Management. Got a question about project management? Need help with a problem? Wish to offer tips and advice? Post here.
Post Reply
New Member
New Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat 12 Mar 2011 4:26 pm

How to deal with this? How to improve team dynamics? How to deal with the various profiles ? HOw to deal with someone who is more senior both in career level and age. I am not used to an unstructured project like this and so is politics. How to improve productivity? So we can deliver. The Business Manager is putting the burden on me !!! Help !!!

Do you foresee success for this project or are we doomed from the start?
Expert Member
Expert Member
Posts: 132
Joined: Wed 08 Sep 2010 1:38 pm
Location: Westminster - London

From the project work perspective the first thing that needs to be done is to re-write the whole package in one base language. Having done this then it needs to be completely analysed in order to produce the missing documentation. It is only at this point that you can fully understand the nitty gritty of its workings and what it was intended to do. Having done this, then it needs to undergo complete preliminary testing to find out if every aspect of it is functionality is working properly or not. Once this has been done all the new requirements need to be factored in and tested and documentation updated. Then finally you can think about translating it into the different languages that the customer requires.

It sounds to me that someone has bought into this horrendously difficult project without fully understanding the full scope of work that needs to be done. Because of this it is now suffering from the sick cow syndrome and almost all of the team have become demotivated and given up on it or decided to do their own thing. Obviously, the full project management methodology (no matter which one you follow i.e. PMI, Prince2, AMP or AIMP) has not been followed and put into practice from the start, which is a direct cause of all of the secondary problems.

The primary problem lays squarely at the feet of the executives who have allowed this mess to start and through their inaction and lack of direction allowed it to not only continue but also to descend into total chaos.

In the second part, you mention team structure that is an oxymoron because you don’t have a team, in fact you don’t even seem to have a management structure related to this project so it is doomed to fail dismally. What you do have is a load of so-called skilled professionals acting like spoiled badly behaved kids when their parents are either out or are too weak to maintain control.

The PMBOK guide says that if a project manager has a problem or issue to confront it face on.

A few words of wisdom from Sun Tzu:
Do not tackle difficult problems with inadequate resources.
Those who prepare quickly and thoroughly await the encounter at ease; those who prepare later are rushed and exausted.
A skillful executive moves his competition; he does not allow the competition to move him.

Imagine a project manager as being the captain of a ship who has absolutely no authority what so ever and who has to navigate his ship through stormy seas by consensus of the crew.

He can't do it, and neither can a project manager.

I am not normally an advocate of an autocratic management style but in this case you need a kick-ass manager with not only the strong interpersonal skills that are obviously needed to gain the respect and commitment of these peoplebut also the direct authority to pull this all together again.

Maybe, if the 'team' is not willing to listen or gel together then some heads will inevitably need to roll in order to gain control.

From what you have said, your company is not only facing demands to complete the project from the customer but could also be facing a breach of contract law suite and massive claim for compensation which is definitely not good for its future profitability or reputation.

As for you, to be honest you are not high enough up in the pecking order to make any real difference to this situation, however, when the fickle finger of blame is pointed, you could end up being muddied along with all the rest of the time wasters.

My advice is to get out of this situation as soon as practically possible because your reputation and C.V is just a too valuable a long term asset to risk in the short term.

I have often said in these forums that I would never set myself up, or allow anyone else to set me up, to fail and this is a classic example of what I meant.

Kind regards

Stephan Toth
New Member
New Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat 12 Mar 2011 4:26 pm

Very well said Stephan and I especially like this line:

"Imagine a project manager as being the captain of a ship who has absolutely no authority what so ever and who has to navigate his ship through stormy seas by consensus of the crew. "

To be honest, in terms of the risk of getting into a the mess of a lawsuit, that is not likely to happen as this project is internal. Business Manager/Architect says that scope change and timelines is inevitable and we can only adapt to change and be more productive. How to be productive ? His advise is to unleash the rein and let team members creative juices flow in - this is a typical characteristic of an agile team but we certainly lack the elements of an agile team. I am not stubborn by nature but I certainly believe that this team or organisation is not ready for that. We need to achieve a certain level of maturity before we can claim that we are an agile team.

On the other hand, I would like to give up on this just like that as I don't want to leave a project without the results.

I must admit that I am not ready for this change but the Mr Business Manager/Architect also believes that neither can he do it and the only person he thinks who has what it takes to run this project is me.
User avatar
Site Admin
Site Admin
Posts: 495
Joined: Sat 19 Dec 2009 4:39 pm
Location: London

You are obviously in a difficult position, but clearly they have confidence in you as project manager. You say this project has senior management backing. As PM, you should voice your concerns to senior management straightaway. In my experience these types of situation only get worse when left. Make a list of all the areas of concern and how you would like to deal with them. Take solutions not problems, to your senior management saying for the project to be a success this is what you need.

If you create a plan and a road map for the project, you may find they listen to you. It's possible they have concerns themselves, but are unsure about how to deal with them. If you are not heard, at least you will have tried and will have the satisfaction of knowing you did the right thing.

I've been in similar situations and it often ends up during lessons learned or post implementation review with senior management saying, "why didn't you come to us, we would have been able to help you." Whether they would is another matter. Most of these people have degrees in hindsight. However, it’s worth a try.

As Kimberly Wiefling says in her book, Scrappy Project Management, if you don't ask you don't get. She offers this advice:
  • Understand the goals of the person you are asking for help.
  • Prepare before you make the request.
  • Make a clear and solid business case for your request.
  • Ask them what would make it possible for your request be be granted.
One thing you might take from Agile to help you is the Daily Scrum. These are very short daily standing meetings. Meeting daily makes sure everyone is on top of their tasks. You can ask:
  • What did you get done yesterday?
  • What are you working on today?
  • What obstacles are in your way?
The Daily Scrum is a great idea and especially useful for inexperienced teams.

Hope this helps and good luck!
New Member
New Member
Posts: 1
Joined: Sun 13 Mar 2011 11:43 am

Hi there,

I read your post with interest and have a few observations.

The relationship between yourself and the BM/TA is going to be crucial to the success of the project (probably goes without saying).

1. If you are working within a PM team, I would ask other PMs that have worked with the BM/TA how they have managed that relationship. It may provide clues on how to 'press the right buttons'.

2. You say the BM/TA is a perfectionist, then I would expect him to appreciate that quality in others (like your role in ensuring a smooth and successful project).

3. Clarifying roles is important here as well, if he is expecting you to be accountable for handling the politics and controlling changes (something that may persuade him of the value your PM role) then he has to accept responsibility for delivering on commitments. And making reasonable commitments to start with.

4. The BM/TA I'm afraid has a misunderstanding of Agile. He seems to consider it an opt-out from project management, quite the reverse. Employing Agile will require constant (re)planning throughout the project AND it will mean developers will be more exposed to the business (and its politics) and be more accountable individually for their work.

The choice of approach is for YOU to decide, based on your intuition and experience. I personally find it very encouraging to see teams considering the best way to achieve success and coming up with ways to improve. But at the end of the day that decision is yours. If you pressed heavily for a particular technical solution, would the BM/TA be as receptive to your views?

Hope that helps

P.S. I would worry less about seniority and age than skills and abilities, when defining your team. Folks are appointed to projects to perform a role. If the CEO is appointed the team to sweep the floor, he's gonna have to sweep the floor. Only you'll probably show more deference in your communication style there ;)
Expert Member
Expert Member
Posts: 132
Joined: Wed 08 Sep 2010 1:38 pm
Location: Westminster - London

I slept on this problem last night and to all intents and purposes I still believe you have been given a lame duck that could come back to bite you in the bum. But, lets assume you have no option but to not only take this problem on but also see it through to completion.

I had a similar line management situation in the past when I stole a moulding company out from under the noses of the union and transferred all the equipment three hundred miles to a new location and introduced a new workforce made up from other existing departments.

I still think an autocratic management style is needed in the beginning and this does not mean aggressive but more determined and authoritative. Once things are under control you can back off to a more diplomatic management style depending on the attitude of the workers.

Looking at the problem purely as a people management problem:

Firstly the Business Manager/ Technical Architect who clearly knows his stuff but does not want to be bogged down with bureaucracy and procedures.

Which is no great problem.

I had a life long union guy who absolutely hated management and when I asked him 'How do you like to be managed' turned around and said, 'just tell me what you want me to do and then **** off and leave me alone. I said fine, I’d do that for you if you tell me straight away if you have any problems so that I can fix them. He turned out to be one of my top producers.

So the deal with this guy is, if you will produce what is needed on time and to the right specification I will do my best to shield you from all of the bureaucratic crap that could come your way but I 'will need' accurate progress reports. Is that a deal? He will probably jump at an easy life where he can just do what he likes to do and say yes.

Project manager/Technical Analyst

I take it that this is you.

Analyst one

Stubborn and Tactless and in my opinion quite wrongfully depending a lot on referral power from the Business Manager. He could be under the impression that he does not need to respect you because he was taken on by the Business Manager.

I had a similar situation with one of my packers whose mother was the company’s trade union convenor. His attitude was you cant touch me my moms the convenor (referral power).

In my case being at the time an expert in the firm’s disciplinary procedures and employment law, I bided my time and very carefully applied the disciplinary procedures. Each time he whinged to his shop steward and his mother he was told he couldn’t do anything as I had not made any mistakes. After the second time I went to his mother and told her what his attitude was and that if he mucked up again I would sack him. His attitude changed over night.

So with this guy, have a word with the Business Manager, explain that this guys attitude is not good enough and the reasons why and get him to have a quiet word with him.

Or, tell him straight yourself politely but very firmly, I know the Business Manager took you on but that holds no sway with me, I expect you to do XYZ and to treat me with the respect that I deserve. Always finish off with 'do you understand'. If he goes to argue, say no, then repeat, 'Do you understand'. That is the end of the conversation.

Analyst 2
He seems to be no great problem, build on this relationship and use it to show others that if they play the game right according to your rules, they will have an easy time and get on very well.

The Consultant
I take it he is an outsider, in that case only use him when necessary, make sure that he performs according to his contract and don’t cut him any slack at all. If he comes from the parent company and is your boss then do the same but explain you are only looking after his best interest. He will respect you for that.

Infra Analyst
The artful doger, I had a guy like this come onto my team, he was put on an automatic injection moulding press that took half an hour to boot up and was using solid silver inserts so could never be shut down. This guy was a political wanabie who's self centered efforts were potentualy a team destroyer. He would shut his machine down and try to use creepass tactics by reporting other team members in order to waste time and skive by trying to (bull***) and please me. After the second time I told him straight out, if you shut the machine down again you’re out of here. I also told him that I had a very close knit and competent team and that I did not appreciate him stirring things up. The next day he never turned up for work. Good riddance to him to.

So my advice with regard to him if he is working against your interest or other team members interest and is disruptive tot he project; is to give absolutely firm straight talk laying out exactly what you want from him and advice on his bad work habits too, you could remind him that you are the one who writes the final report on how the project was handled by team members.

My critical advice on company poltics is to read the books on the subject in the book review section of this site and in particular this one which is in my opinion essential reading.

Power, Politics, and Organizational Change by David A Buchanan and Richard J. Badham ISBN 978-1-4129-2834-2

Senior Test Lead
Sounds like he knows the game well but is not motivated or has lost his mojo. Fine, explain to him how important the work that he is doing is for the project. Build him up and give him recognition (no beep) for his efforts.

The Other New Person
He is a newbie, or a blank piece of paper that you can write on. Make sure your writing good stuff. He is not confident of the work that he is doing and needs to be nurtured. Look for the good in him and give him lots of encouragement and praises (again no beep). If he is having problems have a word with the Business Manager to see if he is willing to take on the role of mentor.

As for the project call a meeting and tell the team members straight that this project has run into difficulties and has become a bit of a nightmare for everyone. Tell them that it is not going to go away over night and you can’t sort it out yourself; you need the commitment of each and every one of the team. Explain that as soon as 'we' sort out this project and satisfy the customer we can all get onto do something less stressful and a lot more interesting. This meeting would be a good time to address the problems outlined above, whether you use names or not is your prerogative.

Finally check out this site , watch the training videos and pay particular attention to the reporting videos for team members. Here you will see that in this package records every aspect of the project and complete transparency of effort and actions including inactions is a powerful tool when it comes to gaining commitment.

I hope this helps even though I don’t think I would have taken on this job without serious conditions attached to it.

For future projects, hold a team meeting before it starts or at the beginning of taking over a failing project. Tell the team that you have been asked to take over the project and ask them directly what they expect from you. Listen to them and write down what they say and then say fine, I will do that but what I expect from you is ……….. and lay out what you expect from them.

Try to get hold of the book by Richard J Schonberger – Building A Chain Of Customers. After reading this you can explain to your team that every team member on this project is both a supplier of a product or service and also at the same time a Customer who receives a product or service and that each team member must give and receive total customer satisfaction at all times.

Politics as comedy: Office Wisdom; taken from Buchanan's book recomended above.
There may be no 'I' in team, but there is 'ME' if you look hard enough.
Remember that age and treachery will always triumph over youth and ability.
Every time you open your mouth you have this wonderful ability to continually confirm what I think.
Show me a good loser and I'll show you a LOSER.
Never do today that which will become soneone else's responsibility tomorrow.
If you treat the people around you iwth love and respect, they will never guess that your trying to get them fired.
If at frist you don't succeed, remover all evidence that you ever tried.
You have to be 100 percent behind someone before you can stab them in the back.
Quitters never win, winners never quit. But those ho never win and never quit are idiots.
Remember these three golden rules:
1) It was like that when I got here.
2) I didn't do it.
3) I like your style (to your boss)

Ever wondered why you never got that job interview, maybe the personnel officer thought like this.
Avoid employing unlucky people - throw half of the pile of CV's in the bin without reading them.

Kind regards

Stephan Toth
Post Reply