Thought Leaders

The Best Projects Are Everybody’s Business

ideas collaboration meeting

You may be familiar with the tale of Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. To paraphrase, there was an important job to be done and while Everybody was asked to do it, in the end Nobody did. Somewhere in the middle, Somebody got angry because Anybody could have done it.

While linguistically amusing, it’s also the classic example of project management gone wrong. Instead of clear communication, managed expectations and good morale, there’s confusion and missed deadlines. Without some serious course correction, it’s all about to go to hell in a handcart.

Transparency is critical to project management success. Visibility, not just by one employee of their own direct trajectory, but of broader expectations, wider company goals and others’ input, from fellow colleagues to third party providers, makes for smoother progress and better morale all round.

But transparency is much more than everyone logging into the same GANTT chart, although that’s certainly a start. It crosses a whole range of issues from employee empowerment, leadership structure, project construction and more.

So what does transparency look like when it comes to best-in-class project management? First of all, it’s about clarity of expectation. It may seem basic but when things are moving fast it can be all too easy to add an extra task here or there or beef up a project spec a little. Before you know it, teams begin to feel put upon, their to-do lists spiralling out of control, deadlines and deliverables stretch out of reach.

Married to this is communication. Not only do you need to be able to clearly express what is needed and expected, you also need to be able to listen. Too many projects are created on timelines that suit the business, rather than being adapted to teams’ capabilities.

The first step is to listen to your people, understand their needs – and not just at work. Are they juggling a young family, has it been a while since they last took annual leave – understanding team circumstances helps create timelines that are practical and achievable.

Inevitably, there are delays, roadblocks and challenges. Individuals need to be able to speak up when challenges arise but sadly many feel they cannot. It may be because there is a culture of blame – if you raise the problem, you become the problem – or simply a hierarchy that gives the impression that the more junior you are, the less welcome your opinion.

More often than not, it is the staff involved in the day-to-day execution of projects that are your most valuable early warning system. Creating a culture where every voice is heard and actively appreciated is a significant factor in keeping projects on track.

Not every concern can be resolved of course. Often, but especially during a period of intense transformation, people can feel uncomfortable with change. To make sure new directions are supported, each member must have their concerns listened to and addressed.

Doing this means understanding each individual’s motivations, giving them the confidence to air their concerns – as above – and working to find a common ground that helps them adapt to the new direction. Again, transparency is at the heart of this process. Understanding the why of an organisation’s new direction as well as the how helps the less evangelistic team members get on board.

Projects don’t exist in a bubble. There are often many moving parts, influenced by external forces often beyond the team’s control. Transparency is the project manager’s first and last line of defence. Being able to understand what motivates all stakeholders, both internal and external, gives teams sight of potential issues and allows them to prepare and adapt.

Naturally, the pandemic accelerated the use of collaboration tools allowing teams greater structure and visibility into projects that might have perhaps been more ad hoc in the past – registering requests online has taken the place of ‘popping next door’. Where the latter had no record of the action, using collaboration tools means there is now a breadcrumb trail of activity.

But many of these technologies were adopted at speed during the pandemic, out of necessity. Comprehensive onboarding is critical to making the most of these solutions. If users can’t get the experience to meet expectations, they will quickly abandon the tech, losing a vital part of project management oversight in the process. Tools are only as good as their users so, for the most effective project transparency, training and adoption is key.

Projects can be long, arduous journeys and the ultimate payoff may be a long way off, out of sight, even. To maintain team cohesion and enthusiasm, morale needs to be high. Fostering morale means adopting a culture of radical transparency – create clarity at the outset and maintain it at every stage.

Communication is vital but it must be two-way – everyone should have a voice and feel empowered to use it and expectations should be clear across all stakeholders.

That can only be achieved if the company has fostered a culture built on actively listening, understanding motivations and acting on feedback. Finally, equipping teams with the tools – and skills to use those tools – to do the job to the best of their ability leaves everyone in the best possible place to see the journey through together.

Rob Massa is chief revenue officer at Forecast.

Rob Massa
Related Thought Leaders
Related sized article featured image

Swarm theory offers project managers invaluable insights into improving communication, building trust, and defining purpose.

David Jones
Related sized article featured image

Iain Cameron