In this post, I will be talking about one important role of project managers, and that is, what to do when things are not that great. But before that, let me tell you one little story. When I watch football penalty shootout on TV, I really don’t know who is going to score the goal, but I am very good in guessing who is going to miss it. When I see a player approaching the ball with his face telling you “I must not miss it”, I am pretty sure that the guy is going to miss the goal. Similary, if the eyes of the player who is taking the ball are telling you “I am going to score the goal”, most likely, the guy will make it.
Similar things happen in project management. I have seen too often project managers trying not to miss the ball, making project plan look like long distance excuse thing. In that fashion, as soon as things turn ugly, as they often do, the first task of such project managers would be to find an excuse. The strange thing though, this is the last thing people expect from you.
There is also another important thing you should remember. Higher you go in the hierarchy, people have less time for other people’s problems. Therefore, when your project is hit by a grey swan, think for the moment and come up with the following slides to your boss (this is one of few places where I believe slides are useful):
- Define the problem
- Explain the impact of the problem
- Give a plan of what you think should happen next
- List all dependencies of your proposal(s)
- Tell what you need from your boss to make it happen, if required
- Say what will happen if nothing happens
- Tell your preferred choice and explain why
- Give a date by which you need a decision
In my previous post, I talked about some of situations in which your project will certainly get in trouble. The last thing you need then is to get in panic, look for excuse and let other people manage your team and your project. Stay cool, prepare few scenarios and then knock at the door of your boss.
Now, it’s time to fix the team
Your job is not over yet – you have only defined your grey swan and don’t think that the problem will be resolved by itself. Now it is time for the next phase – get the job done. The first and the most important thing to remember now – you are on the stage like in Shakespeare play, and people will look at you. You need to stay calm and consistent in your messages. Your team needs that. There will be pressure building from various directions, but you must keep your team in isolation and let them do what you ask them to do.
And now, it is time to fix yourself. Everyone else is busy.
How to deal with pressure – or “Fake it Till You Make It” approach
Grey Swan events are usually remembered by the number of meetings, and no worry, if you have forgotten them, you will be reminded. There is only one thing you should do: go back to your first slides and stick to your message. Patience is the mother of all virtues. The most stress and frustrations in your job come from actions directed to things you can’t influence or from a feeling that things go too slowly. If your team needs a week to test the fix for concurrency bug, or if the rollback to the previous platform takes 2 weeks, this is what it takes. If that means coming every day to the same meeting and repeat the same message, so be it. “Fake it till you make it” is mantra I very often think of in these moments. Or as William James put it once:
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”