Last month I attended the Project Management Institute’s (PMI©) Northern American Global Congress in Washington D.C. I was struck by one recurring theme I heard throughout the Congress. President Bill Clinton, Vivek Kundra (United States Chief Information Officer), and many of the workshop speakers touched on this theme. The theme I am referring to is ‘candid and open discussion of project status and issues’. It seems to me that we project managers hate to communicate or especially escalate issues. Isn’t that a sign of weak leadership?!? We should be able to resolve EVERYTHING by ourselves. While it may be true that we want to, it is not realistic. I have always liked the notion that the best managers are those who keep people that are smarter than themselves around. I know that I like to think those who employ me do so because I am better at project management then they would be themselves. So why would I not recognize my manager’s and sponsors’ strengths when it comes to the business or the organization that my project supports? I need to communicate project struggles and let them know the areas of their expertise that will best support the project in order to leverage those strengths.
Mr. Clinton and Mr. Kundra were not speaking from the project manager’s point of view but rather from the sponsor or executive stakeholders’ view. Mr. Kundra stated ‘Do not waste my time with telling me how good you are. You were hired because I know you are good. Tell me the barriers the project has so that I know where my assistance is needed. Red (dashboard indicator) is okay. This helps identify where to focus on root cause to make improvement’ (Keynote PMI Global Congress October 10, 2010). Often the root causes of issues do not reside in the project and therefore are outside of our sphere of control. Sponsors need to know where there are problems to help identify and work toward resolution. Most managers are where they are because they like challenges and solving problems. I can think of one sponsor in particular who was much more engaged when utilized in this way. Also, by keeping successes high level and getting into more specifics on barriers we should have more time to execute, assess, and take corrective action on the project. At the very least when you communicate issues early the sponsor will not be blindsided if the project is negatively impacted.
Try working with your sponsor early next time your project is faced with an issue outside of your control so that you can judge for yourself the benefit of the approach. I would be thrilled to hear the results, good or bad.