As much as we plan and prepare, most projects will run into situations that throw either budget, schedule, or both off tracks. Sometimes you can save the go live date or budget and sometimes you need to make a change. This is where the project manager is worth their weight in gold. Generally speaking, there are 3 stages a project manager goes through when a project is off track. How well a project manager handles each stage is a direct impact to the success of the project.
Recognize the Issue: What is Happening?
As obvious as we think this step is, it is sometimes hard to recognize if there is a problem or if an issue is an impactful problem. Problems have a tendency to hide or seem benign at first. Team members sometimes hide or diminish problems out of fear, or they think they can fix it themselves. So, to recognize problems, project managers have to be very good listeners and ask the right questions in a neutral way. Here are some questions to ask the team, as a whole or individually, to help determine if a problem exists:
- What is the impact to the success of the project's goal if the situation persists? Or doesn't happen? Or is delayed?
- Are there downstream impacts?
- What is the root cause? Process or people?
- What keeps you up at night about this project?
- If it's not a problem now, at what point will this be an issue?
Time is usually of the essence in discovering problems. A good project manager will pick up clues during conversations or emails and proactively check in with the team and individuals.
Communicate: State the Facts and State It Early
When to communicate is not always an easy decision. Sometimes too early will cause alarm, especially if the root of the issue is not clear yet. On the flip side, sometimes too late will cause the problem to get larger or limit options. As a general rule of thumb, the earlier the better. What helps balance the too early or too late is to just state the facts. State the issue and communicate at what stage of troubleshooting you are at and even tell the stakeholders whether it is time to worry or not. There are several benefits to communicating early:
- No one likes to be surprised and it also builds trust between the stakeholder and project manager
- Place yourself in the client's shoes. Would you trust the team if they let you know something is going to go over budget before it goes over or after? Though the hours may still need to be spent, the client would feel they have more control/trust when informed ahead of the spend, instead of surprised with the bill.
- Opens up resources to help solve the problem.
- Multiple head are better than one when it comes to problem solving. Sometimes you need someone not in the middle of the storm to see the answer clearly.
- Stakeholders help determine if it's critical to the project or not.
- Simply ask if the issue at hand is impactful for the client. Sometimes a stated requirement is not critical for a stakeholder and can be skipped or delay; this will help the team determine how much energy to spend on fixing the problem.
Find a Solution: How Do We Fix It?
Once the problem is identified, now what do we do? We determine what resources are needed to solve this solution. Resources come in a few flavors: time, people, and knowledge. Time can be acquired a couple of ways; you can extend your timeline, or you can add more manpower or more man hours to complete a job. When it comes to people, don't just look inside the team or company but look outside, use contractors and outsource. As with time and resources, we can purchase knowledge by hiring consultants or purchasing applications, try not to recreate the wheel. Every specific solution is unique and requires a different combination of these resources.
One last word on the solution, be clear if the solution presented is a short-term workaround or a long-term fix. The above 2 steps of recognizing and communicating will help identify if one or the other is needed. When time runs out, sometimes a short-term solution might look like a long term/root cause solving solution. Project managers need to understand what is being implemented and communicate with the team.
As a project manager, we don't necessarily have to have all the decisions or answers. However, we do need to bring it to the forefront and have the project team or stakeholders make that decision. Project managers job is to listen for red flags and proactively inquire if there are underlying issues that need to be addressed. The earlier we uncover these issues, the more flexibility we have in solving them.
Concentrus NetSuite Project Management is about being a good partner for our clients. We do not hesitate to do and say what is needed to help the project and client succeed. If you need a NetSuite partner that is looking out for your best interest, please contact us.
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