Of course, the technical knowledge is a base requirement; however, no matter how technically correct, the project manager will not achieve significant results if the people side of the equation isn’t a focus. Thus, project managers must be exceptional communicators and networkers.
In thinking about projects across organization sizes, I cannot think of a project that doesn’t at least involve multiple departments. The pure nature of a project requires some sort of cross-communication and coordination. The ideal situation for these smaller projects is if both departments report to the same executive. Less conflicts will occur. However, 80% of the projects I’ve led or been associated with throughout my career, ranging from small, family owned business projects to private equity backed firms to large, complex, global organizations, do not. These require significantly more coordination with other departments reporting to different executives along with coordination with customers, suppliers, trusted advisors, and others. Thus, networking is a critical skill to develop to deliver bottom line business results with projects.
Networking is the process of connecting with other people to exchange information, develop contacts, to further one's career and to further project success. Thus, there are countless reasons you’ll need to network for project success. A few of these are as follows:
- Find project team members: Since projects are commonplace for delivering critical changes to the business, there tend to be an overload of projects at every company. Thus, it isn’t surprising that there are limited resources to staff a project. Logically, you’ll have to negotiate for team members and/or make your project more appealing than others.
- Convince project influencers (such as leaders with resources, those who can influence decisions etc.) to support your project: These people can be some of the most important to achieving project success. If your influencers do not support the tasks or resources, your project will stall.
- Explain the whys behind your project: For project team members, influencers and even sponsors, it will be important to explain the whys behind your project. Why is the project important? Why is it important to the company’s success and vision? Why should your team members want to be involved?
- Negotiate conflicts: Hands down, this has proven to be the largest detriment to project success. Undoubtedly, your project will run into a conflict between departments, resources, personalities, or some other issue. Ignoring the issue is the best way to ensure failure. Instead, the better equipped you are to handle these conflicts and get everyone on the same page moving forward, the better your success.
- Publicize results: Although promoting project success doesn’t always seem that important outside the team, it is vital. People need to be reminded why the project is important and feel a part of the success.
Becoming as effective as possible at networking will contribute directly to project results. Thus, a few strategies for networking success seem appropriate.
- Know your networking partners: Not every person is the same. If you know of the person, get to know what is important to him/her. Do not assume what is important to you is what is important to him. And, if you don’t know your networking partner (which is quite common), find out something about them in advance. If you don’t know the specific people, make sure you know the types of people likely to attend. Find out what is likely to be important to that group of people so that you can start the conversation off with something in common ground.
- Quality not quantity: Networking is not about collecting the most business cards. Get to know the people you talk with and follow up after you meet them. Tailor your phone call or email to what you learned about them. No one wants to be seen as a number. Find out about the person.
- Provide value: This is one of the most important keys to success. Think about what you can provide to the other person. What resources could you share? What expertise or information might they need? Do NOT think about what you want from them; start by thinking only about what you can give to them.
- Follow up: Follow through and provide the value you offered. And, then follow up and see whether it was helpful and if there is anything else you could provide. Again, think solely about the other person and helping them be successful.
- Smile and be energetic: Smiling can go a long way! No one wants to network with a grump. Think about it. Also, if you are excited about your topic, it is likely to carry over to them. It must be genuine of course, and success will follow.
Since projects will have a substantial effect on your customer loyalty and bottom line – the two most critical aspects of any business – it is worthwhile taking a few steps back to think about how to ensure success with projects. Networking can have a profound effect on this success as it impacts project communication, coordination and results. Follow these networking strategies and success will follow.