Apr 27, 2016
Why Leading Project Teams Is Tough
Projects are too common. Because of this we take them for granted, seeing them as part of everyday work, but we don’t approach them properly. We usually gather the team together and then dive straight into the details of the project, without really applying a professional approach. We certainly don’t apply as much planning expertise to the task as we should, as we wade straight into the mechanics of the execution. Why is that? Poor leadership and lack of skills make for dangerous dance partners, as the team launches forth rocking and rolling with no strategy and little expertise.
Often, there is no existing documented planning process in place. This can be rather ironic because often the projects are repeated or very similar projects are undertaken. Templates and structure are missing so everyone just wings it, making it up as they go along, re-inventing the wheel.
The goals of the project are often vague. This is a lack of direction from the top leadership to those tasked with doing the work. The project leader has to push back and manage upwards, seeking clear reasons for the WHY of the project and then make sure everyone involved in the team understands the WHY.
Project scope creep is like a cancer that can kill the project, denying it success. The project begins with vague boundaries around what is to be done. In quick order, either external parties or the team themselves, become like Emus and are attracted by bright shiny objects. Very quickly the additional tasks multiply but the time frame and the resources committed to the project do not change. This never ends well.
The implementation strategy regarding roles, budgets, timelines and follow-up is weak or non-existent. Well, when you are having fun and winging it, you are super busy getting on with the actual work, so no strategy needed. Later things go wrong because timelines were not clear nor properly planned. The resources do not turn up at the required timing or the sequencing of the work is found to be skewwhiff, so there are delays you cannot easily cover or resolve.
You quickly find that people, rather than logistics, are the trickiest part of project leadership. You may not have been able to match the project team resource with the skill sets required and you have to make do with what you have. There may be incompatible working styles in the team and you are now chief psychologist, in addition to team project leader, spending a lot of time and energy dealing with staff or division conflicts.
The start of the project may be exciting, but over time other tasks start to impede on this project and compete for your people’s time. Their motivation starts to slide. You have to rally them constantly to be enthusiastic and committed to the successful completion of the project. This is when you discover your communication and persuasion skills are rubbish and you are getting nowhere with them. This becomes magnified when there are critical issues of internal and external cooperation required.
People not completing their tasks on time unleashes issues around trust and reliability. Their excuses are never in short supply, but this is not especially helpful, because your boss won’t be accepting any from you, as project leader.
Because you have never been trained on how to delegate properly, you either don’t do it at all or you give it a shot, it fails and you wind up doing most of the work. This would be fine if you had nothing else to do and could devote your time to just this one project. Strangely enough the organization has bigger plans for you and they involve a whole slather of other work to be done as well.
The answer is fairly simple. Train people properly on how to lead projects. Projects are always going to occur and we should have our own organisation’s way of doing them. This would be developed through long periods of hands on experience and constantly updated to reflect best practice discoveries made along the journey.
There are seven project evolution steps we should follow: define scope; devise plan; implement; monitor/modify/keep checking; get closure/evaluate and finally celebrate. For each of these steps we need a trained project head, highly skilled in leading people, rather someone we who is ace on creating macros in spreadsheets!