In previous blog posts we talked about how projects can go off the rails and also how to prevent them from going off the rails. But those only apply if you are actively involved in the project. If you have Project Managers who report to you, what should you be looking for to know when their / your project is having trouble.
The big “E” on any Project Management eye chart is always whether the project is on time and on budget. The other issues tend to revolve around team chemistry, managing team engagement and holding the team leader accountable. If you think that the project manager isn’t giving you the full status, ask for the next level of detail on tasks that should be completed. If you include slack in your schedule, ask for how much of the slack is used. If you can spend an hour with your manager, have them lay out the full project schedule and ask them to show you where they are.
Here are some additional items to watch for.
Is the Team Energized or Struggling?
When you meet with team members there are clear issues to look for. The best indicator is whether they are interested and excited to be working on the project. When a project is being managed well, the team should be excited to work on something this big, this important and with people so talented. This is true for any good team, whether a medical device project team, sports team or music group. They should enjoy working together and the outward messaging from the team is “enthusiasm”.
Another good barometer for this is whether they buy in to the project. Do the team members believe it will be done on time and on budget? Or do they second guess other team members or the Project Manager? The sense of team cohesion will reveal a great deal about the health of the project.
Third on the health of the team centers around communication: Do they hide issues or work through them honestly? When you have a well-run team, there should be a balance of respect for each other as team members but also a commitment to intellectual honesty to fight for positions they believe are valuable. There will be issues to deal with: working through them respectfully and honestly demonstrates team health. The opposite would be refusing to discuss issues in team meetings and instead gossiping and complaining outside of the structure.
Fourth, it is important to ask how many hours a week the team members work. If you have team members who are burning the candle at both ends on a project, working nights and weekends, the team is poorly managed and you risk burning out quality talent. Often the people who are willing to work too many hours are people most vital to the project or who have embraced a level of responsibility not healthy for the good of the project.
What does the Project Manager need to prove on a regular basis?
Your Project Manager needs to be held accountable just as much as their team members are. We start with the big E: Is the project on time and on budget? The Project Manager needs to be able to prove this on a consistent basis. This means they need to have scoped the project properly, with built in contingencies, plans and even slack. Many things can be anticipated, but there will be things that won’t be.
Your Project Manager must also be able to show that the project will continue to be on time and on budget for the next number of months. To this end, they need to not only show what resources they will need and also how they will garner those resources when they need them.
Finally, your Project Manager should be able to prove that they know what contingencies they should plan for, explain how they anticipate them. There are many tools for this, but that is for a future blog.
These are simple and effective ways for you to know if your Project Manager is doing a good job and whether your project will be completed on time and on budget.
When you are in the medical device space, there is a level of competence and intelligence that you expect from every member of your team. The fact that your team has the ability to design, manufacture, and put a product through FDA testing means they are above average intelligence and capability.
With that said, we also know there are some people who excel even among this rarified air. These are people who are smarter and more clever than the rest of us. They see through to a solution immediately while the rest of us have to work through problems and conundrums to achieve a solution.
When it comes to project management, caution is advised with superstars. Working on a project is a team effort; not one shining star with a supporting cast. Any exceptional talent who works on a team must be able to play well with others, be held to the same standards as each member of the team, and be willing, and even eager, to have their solutions challenged.
Some superstars do not play well with others. And it can be dangerous to have them on your project. You might think you can’t live without them, that they are too important. Their genius tempts you to think they are the only one who knows – or has the capacity to learn certain technical details. Worse yet, perhaps the superstar is favored by management.
Superstars can be solid contributors or they can be a cancer. And if you have a superstar who does not play well with others you must get rid of them immediately. Do not put it off as it can destroy your team and derail your project. It may be one of the hardest decisions you’ll make, and there will no doubt be consequences… but it’s the best plan.
We all know that person who thinks everything will be smooth sailing and there won’t be any problems on a project. The great thing about these team members is that they are positive about the project and bring an upbeat energy. However, balancing a team out with people who recognize there will be hurdles and obstacles to overcome is useful. These realists should help hold the team accountable.
As a project manager, you need to identify which team members are optimistic and pessimistic. If someone is predicting things will be done very quickly and with low stress, challenge their assertions. One method? Dive into the details and learn about the assumptions together.
Further, the whole team should have buy in. To accomplish this, the team has to build the plan, link the tasks, and identify the timelines for what needs to be delivered and when it needs to be delivered. The completion of the whole project depends on each member of the team delivering their part on time and on budget. Intimate knowledge of those interdependencies will help motivate the team with both positive energy and accountability. Regular review of these schedules with the team will both keep the optimists grounded and the project on track.
As the project manager it is vital you know each member of the team, their demeanor for the project, their history with other projects, and what issues they might have with scheduling. Factor that information into your project plan. You also need to know yourself. Are you too optimistic? What is your own history? If you have a history of being too optimistic, be intentional about inserting slack time into the project so that you will hit deadlines and achieve goals.
Finally, with almost every project, the end of the project is a challenge for both the optimists and realists… With your entire team, build enough interpersonal capital in the first two thirds of a project so that when crunch time comes, they know you have their back. And they will have yours. Then the optimists will be right… the project will go well.