You can never say yes or even hesitate at all to blurt out “No!” Any show of thought or hesitation means you're considering that they might and you are dead.
How does this pertain to the workplace or a project or your job? I spent my whole career in positions worrying about what my C-levels were thinking about in terms of my performance and my projects' performance. It probably even negatively impacted my productivity and performance quality negatively at times - thus having the exact opposite affect on my performance!
Why do we care so much? I watched my dad work himself so hard trying to get a promotion to VP in his company. It finally came after 30 years but less deserving individuals were promoted to VP before him for odd reasons. It can be so incredibly frustrating sometimes trying to please others that have this odd control over you. I can say my working life - and ultimately home life then - became much better when I took everything in to my own hands and started consulting. The work is harder in general and you're making your own money without the guaranteed paycheck, but the quality of life is so much higher.
How does this all pertain to managing projects? It does, trust me. If we manage projects for success and for our customer's satisfaction and for our team it will feel and be much more rewarding than managing for our C-levels. I'm not saying don't worry about senior management at all. That would be very wrong. But don't manage only for them and don't obsess over it. They care and the need to know what's going on and they need to see that you are performing well. And that will happen if you stick to what you know and do well, rather than look over your should all the time. Move forward... keep moving. To lead is to focus forward, not sideways at management. Take care of the project and everything will fall into place as well. Consider these concepts for proper focus and success...
Manage the team.
The project team members – individually and as a whole – need your focus and excellent communication. They also need to see your daily dedication to the project's success and forward progress. If they see that and not you looking over your shoulder at management, then that will be their focus as well. They need to see that the project's daily care and performance is what has your attention and that you have the project customer's concerns and needs in mind at the forefront and from beginning to end. Teach them that any supervisor input or interference must be considered, discussed and dealt with, but does not always require immediate reaction and attention and should not change the course of the project or your focus as a team.
Manage the customer.
The customer needs even more focus and care than the team. Not to make the project successful. No, the project manager could probably worry only about the team and make the project a success in terms of delivery, budget, performance, etc. But the customer focus is needed. Customer confidence and satisfaction are keys to project success overall, and customer involvement and engagement on an ongoing basis are important for decision making, information gathering and sharing and requirements or processes clarification. The project lead on the customer side has a day job most likely and this often is not it. So, keeping them involved and available to the project and team often falls to the project manager. Remain focused on the project customer throughout, keep the efficient and effective communication high with them and always ensure they are on the same page with you and that will go much farther toward project success than any intervention from key stakeholders that seems to be stakeholder centric and in contradiction with the project's goals and mission.
Next, the project manager must manage himself. Is this the only project he has? Not likely. The project manager is prioritizing tasks at all times for himself – not only on this project but possibly on five or six projects at once. I've personally had times when I was managing up to 16 or 17 projects at the same time. Not all were in full motion at once, but several were and all had to be managed so prioritizing tasks and managing what you are doing as the project manager – regardless of what others are doing, saying or thinking about your projects – is key to your success overall and on each individual project that you are managing.
Finally, managing those in leadership. You may not be doing this directly, but you are managing what they care about and how you interact with them. They may try to change the course of your project or request that you take certain actions that benefit the organization. You must always ask yourself – and feel free to use your team for this as well – is this move in the best interest of my project and project customer as well? I had requests on two very large visible projects from my PMO director to focus elsewhere or withhold information from the project client and I complied without questioning. It was the wrong move and we ended up losing on both projects. Hindsight is 20/20, but our focus has to be on the successful forward progress of our projects and on our teams working on those projects and on keeping the client satisfied and engaged.
Summary / call for input
What others think is important. It's always going to be something we care about. As project managers we are basically in an industry of service. And my motto is "You're only as successful as your last customer thinks you are..." As long as we keep that attitude and focus, we should have the proper customer focus.
Readers – what are your thoughts? Do you agree with this? Do you ever struggle with your senior management's project involvement and sometimes having their focus be in contrast to what you feel is right for the project?