– Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of Lego

legoIf you’re starting out as a new project manager on your first project with your own team, the above quote and what it teaches us about the growing need for collaboration in projects is essential to keep in mind. This post will help new project managers avoid nasty surprises for their stakeholders by bringing to light the importance of a collaborative style, transparent project risk management and the ability to ask for help.

Failing to help – Will build a bad reputation

When you see one of your team facing challenges you’ll instinctively try to help them overcome the challenge but what about seeing other teams in trouble? You may have the idea that you need to control scope and so it’s not your job to help the other team, however if the program fails or a downstream team fails then you fail as well – Blame is for failing to help. In this situation a whole program of which your project is a part could fail and senior management will be asking you why you didn’t help when you had visibility of an issue. Failing to help on smaller things will also build a bad reputation and people won’t be ready to help you when you are facing challenges.

As a new project manager you’ll need to make sure you’re aware of what’s happening in the wider organisational environment that your project operates in. When you see another team in trouble you should help. Don’t try to go and solve other problems yourself as this will take you away from your responsibilities. Instead try to help in other ways by discussing timelines, dependencies, maybe re-sequencing some of your activities to allow your team to work collaboratively with the other team so that both can achieve their objectives. You want to build a reputation as a helpful but focussed person and having a collaborative style will help make that a habit for you.

Collaborative style

Building a reputation as a collaborative, helpful and hard working person is going to pay dividends many times over as you progress through your career. Not only will it open your mind to the wider goals of your organisation, it will help you build the network of advocates that you will need to succeed as a project manager. People will also be much more willing to help you in return when you are facing challenges.

How do you embrace a collaborative style? Make sure you are proactively identifying your stakeholders, involving them early and bringing them along for the journey of your project. If you are in a Program, make sure instil a culture of collaboration with your team so that they work with other project streams and you are being transparent and continually collaborating. This will ensure your team doesn’t go too far down the wrong path before realising that a solution they are designing won’t work with a solution another team is designing. This in turn reduces risk to your project delivery.

Failing to ask for help – Trying to be a hero could get you into a lot of trouble

If you’ve come from into project management after having been a senior project delivery person such as a Business Analyst, Change Manager or Developer, you will have a strong tendency to try to solve problems yourself. While project managers will definitely appreciate this in their team members, when you are a project manager yourself you need to resist the urge to jump in and solve all the problems that come up.

For example when the 1st problem arises you may jump in and solve it but while you’ve been deep in thought working on that problem another 3 arrive. And they’re from totally different streams of work that require different expertise. Then you start working on problem 2 but another 2 arrive and you have 5 open problems. Also during this time you’ll need to perform your project management duties. You can see that you’ll be spread too thin and nothing will be done to a good level of quality.

You may be reluctant to put more work on your team because they’re already busy with a full workload, but you still can’t start trying to take it on yourself because this will likely lead to disaster! To avoid this situation you need to remember that blame is for failing to ask for help. If the team doesn’t have capacity to take on the extra issues, this is where you need to switch to your project management skillset rather than attempt to solve the problems yourself. You’ll need to communicate the issues, outline the options and make a recommendation that could be to hire another person, de-scope a feature, extend the delivery dates, or other solutions.

Transparency with project delivery risk management

One of the key things you can do that will help communicate any issues and assist you in asking for help before problems blows up, is transparency with project delivery risk management. Set up a regular project risks and issues forum; or if you’re running a smaller project, use your project working group or status meeting to run through the open project risks. This gives your stakeholders early visibility of any problems and while you’re new to project management you won’t have the experience to know when a risk really becomes a serious issue. Hence it’s far better practice to be transparent with your risk management process rather than attempt to solve all the problems yourself and only raise them when someone else tells you there is a serious issue.

What if your team members don’t raise any risks?

This often happens because the team members don’t think what they are dealing with is serious enough to be a project risk. This can be dangerous as you end up with a team of people trying to solve all the problems themselves and you won’t know what the risks are and what you should be doing to reduce uncertainty and help your people.

I’ve seen this handled really well by creating a team concerns register in addition to your project level risks register. You can tell your team to raise anything they are concerned about in the team concerns register, regardless of whether they think it’s a risk, dependency, assumption or issue. The team will be less reluctant and you can build a culture of transparency. Then you run through the team concerns register and escalate anything that requires your attention and a mitigation plan into your project risk register. Your project risk register is then communicated with your steering group or project working group and will serve as your prompt to ask for help early rather than waiting till things become more serious.

The ability to ask for help

Once you recognise that blame is for failure to ask for help, and you have a transparent risk management process, you’ll be much more proactive in asking for help when issues arise rather than sticking to old tendencies of trying to solve all problems yourself. Once you’ve been in a project management role for a while this will become second nature and you’ll immediately recognise any tendency to jump in and start problem solving – you’ll be able to step back, assess the situation and see the best course of action that will allow you to keep managing the project without being distracted and neglecting your real responsibilities.

What are the main challenges you’ve faced when starting in a new role?

More info

TED talk by Yves Morieux on simplifying work including how to build collaborative culture.