~ By Brad Egeland
What? Did I just say that? Your project team…the very team of highly skilled resources who have been assembled to turn your project schedule tasks into a real workable solution for the project customer. Ignore them? Am I crazy?
Actually, I’m trying to get your attention. Of course we can’t ignore our project team members. What they say or have to say on topics definitely matters. The input they give for key decisions is important. And certainly the feedback and - and, yes criticism - they may have for us on our performance and decisions and oversight is helpful some of the time or most of the time, but necessarily all of the time.
Here’s the thing. As project managers - especially if we have four, five or six projects on our plate at any given time, it can be easy to take whatever they tell us as the absolute truth or as completely accurate…and run with it - especially if we don’t have a lot of extra time to consider it. That can be dangerous. Just as dangerous as, say, listening to the customer and accepting everything they say as accurate without asking any probing questions. If you’ve ever done that then you know how that can sometimes lead you down the path of destruction, right? So why do it with our team? Certainly, they mean no harm (and if you find out that for some reason they are trying to undermine you, have them removed from the project immediately…but that is probably the rarest of cases).
What information they give you or decision input they provide may be entirely accurate. What I’m saying is to think things through…count to ten…whatever you have to do in order to not just act and react on the information your team or anyone provides you on a project. Information is great…but it can also be dangerous if it’s inaccurate. Check it out…think it through.
Here’s what I do to ensure that I don’t react too quickly to the information flow on the project (and for the purpose of this article and this discussion, we’re going to assume this is focused on information of significant importance or potential 'value' to the project and team).
First, and foremost, if we are going to be good communicators (which is absolutely essential for project managers), we must be good listeners. If we never listen well, then we stand a good chance of getting inaccurate info that will be entirely our fault. Any resulting decisions or actions based on information we get will likely be the wrong decision or action. Listen first, then move on.
Next, confirm what was just discussed or revealed. If I had done that this morning I would have ended up coming home from Starbucks with the free cups of coffee my wife told me to get rather than the bags of coffee from Wal-Mart that I had it in my head I was supposed to pick up. Yes, it would have been much better for me if I had listened carefully and then confirmed….but I didn’t…lesson learned yet again.
The information we are passing back and forth on our projects is often too important to leave to chance…as sometimes the resulting decisions we make or actions we take based on this info can turn the course of the project.
Now, consider the information you’ve just received and confirmed given everything else you know about the situation or the issue that the information pertains to. Is it consistent with what you already know? If it is, that may make future actions easy. If it greatly contradicts what you know about the given situation, then it may be unwise to react based solely on the new information. Most of us have learned this already based on the rapid flow of inaccurate information we get daily on the Internet where rumours are abundant and well propagated - knowingly or unknowingly - on venues like Twitter and Facebook.
And here is where you may have to ‘ignore your project team.’ You are still the project manager, still in charge, and still the one on who’s shoulders the success or failure of the project ultimately rests. So, what do you do with the new information that you’ve listened to, confirmed with the source, and considered in light of what you already know? Often your team is your sounding board…and that really doesn’t change here. Discuss it carefully and come up with a response strategy…figure out how to use this information to properly move forward with whatever key decision or action must be taken on the project. But as the project leader, you also have to be ready to take a stand and say, "We are staying the course - this information does not affect how we are going to approach this situation." As long as you’re comfortable with it, it may be the way you have to go and you’ll have to be the strong leader everyone expects you to be and stand behind your decision.
Lots of information flows on the project. Most is very good information and I doubt that anyone is truly trying to feed bad information to project leaders. But it does happen accidentally from time to time and we can’t react based on everything we hear and every piece of information we are given. The stakes are too high. We must carefully consider information when critical decision points are reached and sometimes it’s ok to disregard information that seems to contradict logic or what we already know. Investigate, confirm, discuss…but don’t react too quickly or the decision you end up making may be harmful for the project.