Don't manage projects, inspire people

Friday, October 12, 2018

I've worked with a lot of teams on a wide variety of projects from software development to optimizing value streams. Here are a few of the things I've learned:

• It's about people not the process of managing the project. You can map, create work breakdown structures, do Visio diagrams, use Smartsheet or whatever your pet approach is... and here is some big news... it's more about how people are treated in the project than your credentials or the cool tech tools you've chosen.

• Meet with each team member's supervisor, pitch the project and attempt to get their commitment to open up time for their people to work on the project. Let team members know that they can rotate in and out of an active role based on the stage of the project. At the end of the project and where deserved, give team members a resume worthy statement about their participation.

• Do the fuzzy front end stuff first and do it well. Get out of your office and meet with the people most impacted by the thing you want to improve. Ask questions and observe, empathize and really understand the problem the project intends to improve. If there is no data available to quantify the problem, design and do a data collection plan with the folks closest to the problem and implement it with them!

• It needs to be run like a project and utilize the body of knowledge of project management but... and this is a big but, you need to use other tools that fit the stage of the project. Agile, Design Thinking, The Job to Be Done Framework, PDCA, DMAIC, Waterfall, Build - Measure - Learn - Cycles and so on. One approach does not - should not fit all stages of a project.

• Get to a really big observable milestone done in three months or you'll lose the attention of everybody. Yup, we are all busy and our priorities are constantly shifting. Only the best most interesting project charters will hold peoples interest for more than 5-6 meetings without generating a big noticeable win.

• Always do a communications plan and implement it... always and for every project. Do a stakeholder analysis and implement it as a primary element of the team's work.

So, here's the thing in projects and with project managers: You are expected to know and possibly be in love with the intricacies of project management. Don't expect your team to join you in the celebration of the perfect WBS. Show them how the project will make it better for people and customers in meaningful ways. That is what they will remember about their role in the project.

Bill Pierrakeas is a results-oriented industry advisor and lean consultant serving manufacturing, service, sales and academic institutions. He is a member of the AME Midwest region board and will be presenting a workshop, “Effective transformation strategies for managers" on Monday, November 4th at AME Chicago 2019.