Project management vital to avoid conflict and stay on track

 

Good project managers can be worth their weight in gold to an organisation in terms of helping to manage costs, improve efficiencies and raise customer and stakeholder satisfaction.

Good project managers can be worth their weight in gold to an organisation in terms of helping to manage costs, improve efficiencies and raise customer and stakeholder satisfaction.

 

Projects going pear-shaped make good reality television. Their combination of sulks, obduracy, hissy fits and naked ambition are often compulsive viewing, but if even one element of this high-octane cocktail is left unmanaged in a real world setting, it could derail a project faster than one can say The Apprentice.

Projects that don’t have someone doing the planning, peering around corners for potential problems and keeping stakeholders on side rarely run smoothly. Look no further than Brexit – what plan? Closer to home, the water charges debacle underlined how easy it is to completely “lose” your stakeholders and whip up a fury that becomes difficult to placate.

Norma Lynch, head of training at consulting and enterprise IT company Aspira, says all organisations, regardless of size, need competent, well-trained managers if they want projects delivered successfully with minimum disruption to day-to-day operations.

“These champions bring a can-do structure and discipline to organisations, helping them transform informal processes into a project management culture and force,” she says. “Project managers need to build a specific skillset not least because it is a complex process involving 10 separate knowledge areas from cost and quality to communication, risk and integration.”

 But even the best-managed projects can have their hitches. A key reason for stalling is “scope creep” or uncontrolled changes to the original plan. Another is poor gathering of critical information at the outset. A third is lack of resources, especially where there is competition for people and/or funding from other projects within an organisation.

Last but not least, there is nothing like a big row within a team to blow things off course.  

Collaborative effort

“Conflict is inevitable as many projects will have a significant number of stakeholders with different expectations in environments of enormous uncertainty and complexity,” Lynch says. “But when managing projects, there is no point saying, ‘my side of the boat is not sinking’. Projects are all about a collaborative team effort.”

Lynch says the best way to avoid a potential bust-up is to establish “an environment of openness, frankness and curiosity, where people are not afraid to ask questions, to speak up with concerns, to offer alternate solutions and to challenge the status quo.

“Healthy conflict on projects should allow any stakeholder to stand up and say, ‘your baby is ugly’ without fear of consequences. Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.”

Good project managers can be worth their weight in gold to an organisation in terms of helping to manage costs, improve efficiencies and raise customer and stakeholder satisfaction.

Rubber vs road

“Project management is a critical skill for business success. It’s important to have a vision and strategy, but it is more important to be able to execute that strategy – that’s where the rubber meets the road,” says Pat Lucey, president elect of the Ireland Chapter of the Project Management Institute.

“Good project management techniques allow companies to deliver against their goals. They are especially useful for large-scale projects or when you have multiple projects running in parallel. By delivering on time, within budget and with minimal disruption to the rest of the organisation, good project managers provide a real benefit to businesses.”

Engineer Alan Cuddihy works for Honeywell in Waterford. He is new to the role of project manager and is currently in the final stages of leading his maiden project in the area of new technology to its conclusion.

“I hadn’t run a project of this scale before, so it was all new to me,” he says. “I did some project management training which I found relevant and practical as it pointed up important issues that I wouldn’t have come up against previously as my job was more focused on process. In particular, I was interested to learn how important it is to tie down the scope of a project at the outset if you don’t want it to grow legs.”

NORMA LYNCH’S TIPS FOR MANAGING PROJECT CONFLICT

- Engage early with your stakeholders and find out what their preferred communication style is.

- Communicate often with your stakeholders and have a clear communication plan. Remember no one likes surprises.

- Allow people to surface concerns: it may be like taking a pin out of a grenade.

- Listen intently to their concerns. You may not always be able to alleviate them but it is important to give them the opportunity to voice them.

- Provide support to your stakeholders: this may include training and development.

- Project managers need to be visible and available. This requires proximity so that concerns can be dealt with before they become issues.

GOOD PROJECT MANAGERS: HAVE YOU GOT WHAT IT TAKES?

Project managers:

- are truthful in all dealings and relationships

- exhibit eagerness to organise and lead groups

- exhibit evidence of a strong desire for goal achievement

- are even-tempered

- have faith that the future will have a positive outcome

- have confidence that their personal performance will result in a positive outcome.

Source: The Superior Project Manager: Global Competency Standards and Best Practices by Frank Toney.

 

Previously published in The Irish Times.

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