Published in “Project Times” website, May, 2012
Click here for original article.
When I spoke at the Project Managers SIG in Silicon Valley recently, we spent the majority of the time talking about overcoming obstacles. Upon returning, I faced several new obstacles in a construction project I’ve been coordinating, and so I’ve been thinking of the critical importance of overcoming obstacles. Obstacles are common in any project. Thus, how effective a project manager is at overcoming obstacles will largely determine success vs. failure.
One of the keys to overcoming obstacles is to think about potential issues that might come up down-the-road……NOT to become a negative complainer (so let’s not go down that road!) but to be better equipped to surmount them. In order to best address this topic, I’ve compiled obstacles from my clients, personal projects, speech participants etc. and have identified the top three: 1) Lack of clarity. 2) No Time to Rally. 3) Priority conflicts.
- Lack of clarity: It is amazing how often the project teams I work with can quickly achieve success by stepping back and thinking about the basics. What is the goal? Why are we focusing on this task? What will really matter to the end results we intend to achieve. It is hard to succeed when you don’t have a full understanding of the project.
In the last 15 years, there’s been a tendency to add complexity to projects. For example, we typically want to implement the latest and greatest functionality in our ERP systems; however, I often find we haven’t fully thought through the effort involved vs. the benefit or the timing of implementing these types of changes. Often times, we can achieve the same benefit through a simpler approach and save the extensive resource needs for when the functionality warrants the investment. The same theory holds true in countless situations.
- No Time to Rally Support: Do you need the support of your team? How about project sponsors and top leadership? Of course! Yet it is not always easy to find the time or simple to ensure your project stands out in the crowd.
With your project team members, consider the following tips: Make your project an object of interest. Create a buzz. Why would people want to be on your team? Be the type of leader where everyone fights to be on your project. Don’t be fooled. You have competition even if your project is a “required” part of your team members’ responsibilities. How will you stand out in the crowd? Let your personality show.
For project sponsors and top leadership, you must relate your project to VALUE. How will it help achieve company objectives? How will it help individual leaders succeed in the organization? Be visible and promote your project. Relate it to improving customer service levels, speeding up results, increasing profitability etc. Soon you’ll have an overwhelming number of offers for support.
- Priority Conflicts: Let’s assume we follow the advice to clarify project objectives. Everyone is on board. And we’re sailing along until we hit the wall full force with a priority conflict. Happens every day.
For example, in an on-time delivery project, a conflict arises between the Customer Service Department and the Planning Department related to expedited orders. Customer Service is doing its best to satisfy customer needs and wants to change the schedule/ priority for the urgent order. On the other hand, Planning wants to make sure the current orders are assured to get out the door on time and doesn’t have the bandwidth to review additional requests. Both are focused on the objective of on-time delivery yet a conflict arises.
I’ve found the best way to overcome these types of obstacles is to re-clarify the objectives. Is the company’s priority on oldest orders, customer feedback, or dollars shipped? If it isn’t clear, get the two department heads together to discuss the topic. Many times, talking through issues can lead to a solution. If objectives are clear, perhaps you have a conflict in how to get to the objective. Again, bring the appropriate resources together to debate and determine the best path forward. You must set it up so that no one person succeeds if the team fails. Ensure “win-win” is the philosophy. Then, I guarantee the team will come to a conclusion.
Overcoming obstacles is a part of our everyday routine. Those who can jump over hurdles quicker and better than their competition will not only ensure project success but will also thrive in their careers.