Project Management: The Unwritten Rules of Engagement

Project Management: The Unwritten Rules of Engagement
As a finance project manager, you know that all stakeholders have their own needs and nuances that must be addressed diplomatically. Not addressing this unstated rule can trip up an unsuspecting project manager at the onset of a project, making the long-term goals of consensus and project delivery very difficult to attain. We have had extensive conversations with a number of project manager consultants with deep experience in financial institutions and have learned about some of the most important rules of engagement. This is part one of a two part series that will address the four items our consultants have suggested are the most important.

Successful project managers build out methods to engage with these challenges: communicate with their supervisor, recruit a project sponsor, gain stakeholder cooperation and consensus, and drive project goals when they conflict with existing processes. Even though these four items are critical to project success, they are not explicitly addressed by management. So project managers, and particularly consultants, need to be aware of their importance. Today we’ll tackle the first two items: Supervisor Communication and Recruiting a Sponsor.

Supervisor Communication
One of the project managers we surveyed, a consultant with over 10 years’ experience at bulge bracket investment banks, put it this way: “Your supervisor wants you to communicate regularly but they don’t want to have to tell you they want you to communicate.”
Program managers and senior leaders involved in projects are deeply invested in your work. Firms allocate a substantial portion of their budget to launch projects and need to be kept abreast of progress — even if everything is going swimmingly – to substantiate their investment. Not providing updates will lead the higher ups to question your engagement in the project and that’s never a good place to be in or recover from!
One small caveat – you should become aware of their preferred communication method. In other words, don’t email a manager who prefers impromptu walk-in meetings and don’t drop by the office of a manager who is more of an email person.

Recruiting a Sponsor
Finance industry projects are typically mandated from the top down, and often in response to updated regulatory requirements. This means that the addition of a project to implement a new system or platform will wreak havoc on departments’ normal course of business. Coverage issues arise as employees are pulled off their usual responsibilities to provide information to the project team. This sort of activity tends to make employees unhappy and these unhappy employees can become an uncooperative bane to the project manager.

The cure for this affliction can often be found in a project sponsor. The project sponsor is someone who can be expected to go to bat for the project manager in stakeholder meetings and help drive the project goals from the other side of the fence. To find this person, the project manager needs to become intimately familiar with the company’s organization structure to determine who would benefit most from the incoming changes. Once the sponsor is on board, he or she can provide support to the project manager, particularly in a hostile environment.

Next week, we’ll discuss some tactics to gain stakeholder consensus and drive project goals in the face of conflicting processes.