Every manager has had to deal with them, every director has gotten frustrated by them and every CEO seems dumbfounded by the fact that, once started, projects are hardly ever completed on time. It’s not just workplace either, projects take longer than expected at home and in the regular world as well. It’s just more frustrating when they happen at work because when you’re the project lead…people look to you for the WHY?
Some universal truths regarding projects:
- They start off with loads of excitement and energy.
- Everyone promises to help and pledges their eternal support.
- They finish with the pop of a champagne bottle and a huge sigh of relief all around.
But what about the middle piece? How does a leader (one who presumably believes in the project and its promised outcomes) manage the “mushy middle part of a project”, as blogger Laurie Ruettimann called it? Here are some helpful tips to save your sanity when going through the valley of project management darkness!
Establish internal confidence by getting buy-in
It’s rough feeling like you’re leading the charge when no one has your back. Having executive buy-in is important but you also need your team to support you on the day-to-day initiatives. Most people are reluctant to change, even when they know change is needed. So, how can you get people behind your project? Involve them in the planning and ensure their needs are also being considered. So often, we mistake bossiness for leadership. Guide your team toward the project instead of springing it on them.
Pick a process
You don’t have to be a Six Sigma master to know there are some really easy to follow processes that have been used to manage projects for the last few decades. From Lean to Agile, select a process framework that can help guide YOU, so you can show a clear path to those around you. Does your process need a lot of revisions or is it one that requires slow periods of build, followed by innovation sprints? Either way, if you don’t have a process selected, your team will have no idea what to expect and get discouraged by the lack of leadership.
Select a team
For every process, you need to have team members to do the work. No one person should carry an entire project on her shoulders. That said, you need to ensure there aren’t too many cooks! You’ll need an advocate, a doer, an organiser and a status quo pusher. With each one of these types, you’ll know that each piece of the process is getting bubbled to the top, organised, completed and vetted, in one full swoop!
In any type of change management, it is important to realise the workforce’s roadblocks are, in fact, your roadblocks. Any time the initiative makes things difficult, you will get push back on the change, making your job harder, and it may knock your confidence. The middle of a project is when it looks like nothing is getting done but in fact, that’s when the hard stuff is really happening. Keep this in mind when you’re tempted to be impatient about progress. It can be easy to see progress at the beginning or the end, but you need alternative measures when you are in the mucky middle.
Your change management strategy should include plans to alleviate the change pain points or focus on the benefits the shift will ultimately bring. That can be something as simple as thanking them for their effort, and encouraging them to keep moving or by giving them proof points of other firms who have done something similar with amazing results.
You can laugh, but visualising results and showing your team those results, as well as higher-ups, will help you get through the middle piece a lot easier. Toward the end, there’s often a fast and furious sprint to get things completed, but if you take the time to plan and visualise the outcomes during the middle piece, you will be more prepared to tackle the last play of the game.
Communicate what’s on the other side
As an example, technology integrations or upgrades can bring a lot of training and growing pains. It’s easy to get people on board with upgrades; it is not so easy to get them through the upgrade.
Change is tough. We have a natural aversion to change, and that is the biggest roadblock on the way to the end game. Establish internal confidence, address projected pain points, communicate the point of it all and build your team and process on top of those precepts. Don’t let your projects fall apart in the middle. Plan them right from the beginning!
Oh, and good luck! Ready to pop that champagne?