It does take a lot of common sense and logic. I believe that experience and logic are the two key principles behind the application of project management best practices. But it takes accountability, dedication, persistence, patience, and solid leadership qualities to experience project management success on a regular and ongoing basis...the kind of basis necessary to keep you in the PM profession for the long term. No one steps into the role of successfully managing projects again and again through shear luck...no it takes experience and the qualities and soft skills and characteristics to actually be able to repeatedly pull that off.
The title of this article comes from a song by Aaron Tippin. I heard it for the first time the other day and it made an impression on me. It contains lyrics like this ...
"He'd say you've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything
You've got to be your own man not a puppet on a string
Never compromise what's right and uphold your family name
You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything..."
My first thought was, "this is a good song and very applicable...now how do I apply this to the project manager profession?" I know it's real and it is saying “be a leader and follow your gut” but how do I translate that to this type of article?
I think it goes like this... If you're going to be a successful project manager or consultant or whatever, you have to have some goals, integrity and missions. Mine, personally, is to succeed for my customer. My motto is, "You're only as successful as your last customer thinks you are.." If you don't have a plan then many things on a project or through others actions or wishes can cause your potential success to fall apart. If you aren't in control, then someone else will be and you will be subservient to whatever that is and whoever that pleases. So for me, it comes down to three key things...
Make solid decisions and stand behind them.
The project manager who can gather information, ask questions from available subject matter experts (SMEs), and make good project decisions and stand by them without being swayed by those with other agendas will have greater chance at ongoing project successes. Meeting challenges head-on and making the best informed decision possible – even if it's made with less than optimal information – it's the best decision that could be made in the moment. Stand by it unless adequate new information becomes available, then of course assess and change directions, if needed. Once you know differently, there is no real honor in standing behind the wrong decision if you know better.
Lead the team and don't waiver easily on the principles that make you a good project manager and leader.
This is another one about stubbornness. There are those – even senior leaders in the company – who will try to sway you away from actions you are carrying out on the part of the customer and the project. They may ask you to knowingly go down a path that may not be best for the project's goals and mission in the name of more revenue or even just making the delivery organization “look good.” I had this happen to me a couple of times that I know of and realized... and possibly more times earlier in my career when I was not aware of the situation. Has anyone reading this had this one happen to you?
Boldly lead the customer and don't back down when the turbulence hits.
When the turbulence hits. On a project. And it will hit. Every project has issues. The key for the project manager is to stay the course, with both eyes on the budget and resource forecast, of course because hitting a patch of issue laden work can mean the need to call out to some additional experts or maybe even switch out resources to get back on track. Both of these scenarios take valuable time and money which is why the budget and resource forecasts must both be watched and managed carefully.
Summary / call for input and feedback
Leaders are stubborn, unwavering, ruthless even. Don't be ruthless, but do stand behind your principles, decisions, and actions. Stand for something so you aren't swayed by anything. Others are going to offer their opinions. Others are going to want you to go down their path. Listen – because that's half of the good communication equation. But if it's not the right thing for the project, for the customer, for the team, and for you...then don't be swayed. I realize that is much easier said than done. Most of us are affected by peer pressure. I know I am. And to leadership pressure. But I've had leadership steer me wrong twice and it caused two of my projects to fail – both million dollar+ projects. That was painful. So, I still stand by my motto that “You're only as successful as your last customer thinks you are...” Keep that in mind and you'll likely make consistent, forward thinking decisions and actions for your customer and project. Stay the course. Be stubborn... it's ok. At the end of the day you're the one who has to take whatever comes on the project, positive or negative. And you're the one who has to look the customer in the eye and explain the good or the bad. You can give that task to someone else, but the best leaders don't delegate this.
Readers – what is your take on this? What principles and goals have you built your project management reputation and practice upon? If pressed real hard to choose...do you go with the customer or the leadership when you know they are in direct conflict with each other? Touch questions... sometimes career defining situations and decisions.