Project Management: Unwritten Rules of Engagement – Part Two

Project Management Unwritten Rules of Engagement

Last week, we discussed some of the unwritten rules project managers face in a new environment. In the second part of this series, we’ll tackle two more rules of engagement: gaining stakeholder cooperation and consensus, and driving project goals when they conflict with existing processes.

Gaining Stakeholder Cooperation

Often, consulting project managers can be perceived as impediments to established employees. Picture this scenario: you have a looming reporting deadline, your manager is on your case with an ad-hoc assignment, you’ve stayed late at the office three nights this week, and on top of everything, a newly hired project manager wants data that will take you a full afternoon to compile. You wouldn’t be very happy with this request, and with good reason: the people on who project managers depend for their information and other project resources regard these tasks as low priority: they are not part of their job description, and they prevent the completion of other items that are of higher priority. So, they aren’t going to be as cooperative as you’d like.

So, how can you change this dynamic?

First, accept that you might be an impediment to their daily goals. While your focus is to get the best data and thorough documentation, you need to recognize that this is not necessarily your stakeholders’ priority. Then, determine who your resources are and what their challenges might be. This will enable you to empathize with them while identifying opportunities to provide value. Finally, apply the golden rule of networking – pay in before looking to withdraw. One project manager we spoke to suggested offering your expertise to a reluctant stakeholder – perhaps you can offer help with a tricky Excel macro, or introduce them to a colleague in a department they’re interested in joining. This “scratch my back” approach will soften your request.

If you can’t come up with value to use on your stakeholders as exchange for their cooperation, strongly express your empathy and understanding of the disruption your request is causing and be effusive in your gratitude. Ensuring they are appreciated will make them much more likely to help you out.

Driving Project Goals

Every company and employee has its own way of doing things. Project managers are called upon to change these processes, often much to the chagrin of the individuals and departments currently using them. People are creatures of habit and can prove resistant to change. Running a project with this sort of resistance can be very difficult, so project managers must tackle this challenge at the very start.

The key to changing people’s minds is to find someone for whom the changes are a boon. Maybe the process you’re trying to implement will save the accounting department 20 man-hours per week or perhaps the front office will benefit from having more accurate information sooner. Whoever the target audience is for your project, find the individual or business unit who has the most to gain from the change. This individual or unit will naturally be more inclined to adopt your process because it will be to their interest. You can enlist such a person as your project ambassador. In status meetings and requirements interviews, this person can help you win over the stalwarts by reiterating the benefits that the completion of your project will provide.

This tactic, like all the rest, requires a very thorough understanding of your project and the environment in which you’re operating, so the first step will always be to do your homework thoroughly from the onset.