Companies run pretty lean these days, and that means they hire people who are excellent at their crafts such as digital media marketing, sales operations, or product management and getting projects done within their department or realm of control. These gurus are great at project management basics like creating a task list, delegating to their direct reports or peer team members, and making sure the work gets done. But these same gurus struggle to lead complex projects, because they assume those same basic project management skills will continue to work.
When there is a lack of project leadership on a complex, cross-department project, it goes something like this.
- The same decision keeps being rehashed in senior management meetings.
- Senior managers are washing their hands of the project because they do not buy into the project goals.
- Progress is sluggish because the project lead has to keep refocusing the team.
- No one can communicate what is happening, when, and who is doing it.
- Intervention is required so often that it feels like a standing meeting should be scheduled.
Why is this happening?
Let’s start with a definition of project management. The Project Management Institute’s definition of project management is “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.” Basically, project management is about deadlines, documentation, and task management. Project leadership is about the interpersonal skills needed to pull the groups of people together to deliver on a unified set of goals. In this article titled What Is Project Leadership? the author describes a project leader as someone with “…skills in both management and leadership. It is a soft skill; part art, part science.” The art aspect of project leadership relies upon traits and attributes like being a solution creator, being insightful, building cohesion, and several more that Jennifer Bridges, PMP, shares in this video on the 10 traits of a great project leader.
Project leadership employs several tactics that foster the collaboration, visibility, and discussion that will lead to the desired outcomes. Here are a few strategies I employ with every project; they have served me well every time.
1. Outcomes over Outputs. Executives think and talk at the outcomes level. Managers and team members generally think and talk at the outputs level.
Strategy--> When an initiative is handed over from executives to managers, there is a lot lost in translation because not enough attention is given to communicating the outcomes. There is more on this topic in my prior blog post HERE.
2. 360 Degree Communication. Team leads focus their communications down to the team members. This makes sense because they are the ones doing the work. However, with complex projects where stakeholders are in various departments, this creates problems. Stakeholders lack a full picture of how their team members are being utilized, what progress is being made toward the outcomes, and how they can escalate concerns causing an endless amount of friction.
Strategy --> Project leaders conduct an evaluation of who needs to be informed, involved, and consulted for decisions. They ask the stakeholders what information they need to feel informed or for their input into other decisions. This all informs the 360 Degree Communication strategy, which includes how project progress will be captured and distributed, types of meetings, and required tools.
3. Cadence for Collaboration. Meetings have a bad reputation and when there is a mountain of work to do, team leads frequently minimize the use of meetings to make more time to focus on doing the work. When a project involves multiple departments and handoffs between teams, the teams get out of sync very quickly because they are not use to coordinating with each other.
Strategy --> The project leaders know how to run “super effective” meetings. Their agendas are targeted to the attendees, in order to surface the issues and facilitate the right type of discussions. Meetings are a communication tool.
If you are experiencing any of these or want to talk about your latest initiative in which a strong project leader will be key to your success, schedule a discovery call with MSD Advisors today.