If you are a professional project manager, you have been through this many times. You get a project to run, receive a list of specialists assigned to the project, start making your calls – and see that the team that you will have to spend a better part of your life with in the coming months is not really sharing your excitement about the project.
For starters, they do not want to attend your project meeting because:
– We are busy
– The project has not started yet, what’s the use of wasting our time?
– Project management is an overhead; with our combined experience of 35 years in the subject matter, we do not need to be managed.
Once, the things stacked up really bad for me, and I was slapped with this one:
– We do not know you, and we are all buddies on this team. What if we just ignore you?
The mischievous question was asked by the “alpha-developer,” with the rest of the pack looking at me with carnivorous curiosity. It was a very stressful moment indeed, that’s why I remember it today, many years later. But as you can figure out: I survived. So will you, too.
Important note: the team has already gathered in the conference room. So this is not the end; on the contrary, it is only the beginning – and a good one: you have succeeded getting the team together for a face-to-face meeting. Your goal now is to demonstrate the value of project management to your team, whatever shade of the PM methodology your organization prefers to profess. This is done in several steps, and in most cases, it will not happen immediately. The resistance can be really strong if the organization is young or the matrix structure is weak.
This is the key objective of the first project meeting: Get the team interested and involved .
And you may have only 7 minutes to get your team on board.
Here’s what you need to deliver at the first project meeting.
1. Why are we doing this?
Describe the strategic purpose of the project. No, not what you have to build or perhaps to break. Every project is a business endeavor, and it must have some rationale for undertaking it. In particular, that could be: making money; gaining market share; testing a new product – but may as well be something totally different and unexpected. It is highly important for the team, starting with the PM, to understand this “zero point.”
Many moons ago, working for a company going through a troublesome phase, I took over an internal improvement initiative, positioned as a “cost-saving project.” The immediate problem seemed to be the team consisting of 20+ directors and managers, well-paid and supposedly busy people, whose eager participation in the three-hour weekly meeting would cost the company over ten thousand dollars each time. Being a cost-conscious PM, cost-conscientious rather, I introduced a clear standing agenda to be covered in one hour and started pruning the team… Much later I learned that the real purpose of that internal project was to keep people busy during the slow period, so my PM move was somewhat career-limiting.
2. What are the key business objectives?
This is almost collateral to the first one but it is important to understand the difference. Here you share with the team that every project has a Triple Constraint Triangle, with the corners being Scope, Cost, and Time. The reality is that you can only have two of the constraints met, and it is NOT up to the project team to decide which one of the three may be ignored. The PM must have clear expectations in this respect formulated by the Sponsor (and key stakeholders) and share those expectations with the team.
If the team is new to the project management and has difficulty understanding the Triangle idea, I offer them the following “life example.” Your ideal job criteria most probably are: interesting, well-paid, and legitimate. You should realize that in real life, you will hardly find a job meeting all the three criteria, you will have to pick two… A joke helps to overcome the initial resistance and get going as one team.
3. Why are YOU doing this?
Here the PM has an opportunity to tell the team why these particular individuals were handpicked to do the job. Obviously, this was because they know their job better than anybody else, and because of the importance of the project that we have been entrusted with by the Sponsor. It is also good to mention that the team will get recognized if the project is delivered in an exemplary manner and that it is a great opportunity to learn the new technology.
Unconditionally, your bottom line is: With this team we can do it!!!
Does that sound insincere? Well, practice your spiel then. Prepare for the meeting, know your people well, update your script – and practice more! But above all, believe in the success yourself. If you don’t, pass the torch to someone else.
Getting to this point at your first project meeting should not take longer than 7 minutes.
If you do your job well, the team will be impressed and enthused with your Gettysburg Address (Yes! Nothing less than that!) and will expect to hear more about the project. Questions will follow, to you – about the goal, about the Triangle, about the project structure and setup, and to each other – because they may not meet face-to-face on a regular basis, and the project team meeting creates a good opportunity to establish horizontal communications within peers.
If you have your part delivered properly, your project is set for success, and feeling as part of this success, the team will recognize your role in it.
You may ask, what about the project documentation, a detailed project schedule, good estimates, risk management, change control etc., etc.? True, in most cases those are PM task as well. However, if the project is big enough, they should be carried out by other roles – Scheduler, Risk manager, Change Control Board etc. Your role is to make sure that those folks are part of the team and are happy to do their work. If the team is not fired up to deliver their best, you will end up doing everything by yourself – and fail miserably, becoming another living proof that project management is a useless function. Except, perhaps, for the free pizza.