6 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Risk to Your Own Project

A Project Management Article by Esen AkterTekinel, MOR, PMP

Projects fail when they are not delivered on time, not finished within budget or when the system does not work according to the requirements. Traditional risk management frameworks include identification, evaluation and prioritization followed by eliminating ambiguities, minimizing the possibility and impact of adverse events along with monitoring and controlling them.

However, as a project manager, you can be another risk yourself or trigger creation of new risks that aren’t inherent in the project itself.

What are some of the ways that project managers can become a risk to their own project and how can they avoid them?

Below are topics covered in the article:

Stop Negotiating Everything

Wanting to negotiate at every step of the project arises from a coercive management style. This might mean that the project manager is autocratic and/or simply they are constantly reshaping the realities in order to give a political impression.

This type of project manager aims to “wear team members out” and “win” all of the discussions until they get the answers they want.  As this type of project manager does not come from a “win-win” philosophy, team members become discouraged and dispirited.  When similar behavior is demonstrated to the project sponsors, this raises questions in sponsors’ and upper management’s minds.

The separatist “I and them” attitude results in damaging the team spirit and unity. As seen in most bad faith negotiations, pretending to reason to reach a settlement without having the slightest intention to settle is not a good start.

Even if there is a need and desire to negotiate on every topic, having the intention of “exploring the opportunities together” before the negotiations start will create healthier relationships within the team.

Noticing this behavior in yourself and taking corrective action is crucial to un-doing the damage and loss of faith in you as a project manager.

As an example, imagine a project manager who schedules an iteration planning meeting where a majority of scope is identified beforehand and team leads are expected to provide their estimates to finalize the iteration planning.

After the team leads address their concerns on insufficient time of the upcoming time-boxed iteration for the pre-determined scope, the pro-negotiation project manager pushes to include more scope items such as enhancements and additional tasks from future iterations, which in return creates concerns of scope creep among the team leads. When this back and forth continues, as the team leads get more frustrated, the meeting runs over the allotted time.

This should be an indication for the project manager that it’s time not to push anymore and “over-negotiate” the scope of the planned iteration. Apologizing to the team for taking more than the meeting’s allotted time and addressing the leads’ concerns will only make you more respected.

Be an Active Listener

Understanding, interpreting and evaluating others accurately through active listening are crucial skills for project managers. Used correctly, active listing will help interpersonal relationships evolve over time, lessen conflict and improve cooperation. If the project manager consistently dismisses the comments and suggestions, team morale will suffer and team members will become discouraged in their professional development. One of the active listening techniques is rephrasing the other’s comments. Thus, the other side will know they are “heard”.

Don’t Try to Change Company Culture

An organization’s psychology, attitude, mindset and values constitute its culture. It is important to be aware of and avoid the occasional desire to work differently than, or even change, a company’s culture.

For example, the organizational culture of a consulting company is different than that of a non-profit organization. The office environment and culture of web startups are different than that of large defense/military contracting companies. It also changes based on which sector and group one is in, within the same company.

A project manager coming from a large military contractor company where the contractors are referred to as “Purchased Labor”, can face challenging times if they choose to impose the same approach after moving to a small web startup.

Small web startups are known with their “work hard, play hard” attitude. It is easy to see engineers to pull several all-nighters in a row to ship a product and also have fun and slack off during down time.

Another example is regarding risk management. For small web startups, risk means opportunity and small risks may yield to bigger returns. On the other hand, military and government contractors have special risk management needs. A project manager coming from a more hierarchical structure will have lower risk tolerance levels and decisions will be made in longer time frames.

Trying to change the culture of a small web startup on risk management can easily jeopardize the chance for the company to grow. Having an open mind to understand a company’s culture will ease the tension between the project manager and their team members.

Focus on Transparency

What happens when the project manager does not adopt transparency, as used in risk management and in lieu of reducing the risk?

The Information Technology sector’s typical employees communicate through facts, statistics, rational and direct conversations. If you work in that environment and choose to communicate with a political attitude, constantly changing facts and employing non-transparent mannerisms, you will lose the respect and trust of your team.

Morale and performance issues are also expected to increase. Stakeholders play an important role in increasing transparency in projects. It is important for stakeholders to attend meetings as needed and managers to have the “open door” policy. This will increase transparency as well as build client relationships.

Don’t Let Your Ego Take Control

It is possible that the project team is using excellent risk techniques. However, if the evaluators of risk practice possess a self-serving attitude then this will have a negative effect on the project. As a project manager, it is possible to ruin all of your excellent risk planning techniques by taking a self-serving attitude.

This could result in abusing your power, bullying or mobbing team members. Often the underlying cause of this behavior is low self-esteem. Having to deal with this could beat up your project team and affect the morale.

On the other hand, the tendency to see yourself in a magnifying mirror makes you susceptible to flattery, which creates an avenue for manipulation for the stakeholders. This behavior manifests itself as re-iterating the same sentence multiple times, hence keeping the meetings longer than the allotted time. This results in lost time and productivity of the team, discouragement, and losing the respect for you, as a project manager.

Preparing the agenda and sending it out to the meeting members prior to the meeting will set the tone. When this is coupled with sticking with the time allotted, the meetings will be more effective.

Know the Value of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) introduced by Daniel Goleman in 1995 is one of the most important values that a project manager should possess. Fundamentally, EQ requires the awareness of one’s and others’ emotions, not necessarily total control of them.

This awareness will help the project managers understand the team members as well as themselves. In the event the project managers do not know and understand themselves well enough, this will affect firstly themselves negatively then the whole team.

One of the techniques to improve EQ is writing down negative feelings that arise due to comments from others. Start daily practice using the same notebook or journal. When feelings are written down, identification and analysis of them will be much easier.

Today’s leaders are expected to lead a well-informed workforce and exceed the consultative and autocratic styles. Since EQ does not fit the traditional model of leadership, the leaders following the historical, sometimes despotic, great figures of military history will not survive in today’s work environment. Understanding the theory behind EQ is not sufficient to be a solid leader. Starting with understanding the self and having the courage the face oneself coupled with daily practices will not only make you a happier person, but also a successful and visionary leader. Through perceiving the emotions and understanding where they are surfacing from will provide the ability to manage them “rationally”. As a result, a project manager with high EQ will also become a great leader. A great leader’s team will trust their manager and not harbor leadership voids. There will be no risk of low team morale and high absenteeism.

About the Author

Esen AkterTekinel, MOR, PMP

Esen AkterTekinel, certified Project Management Professional with 20 years of IT experience, is the Vice President -Professional Development at PMI Washington, DC chapter. Mrs. Tekinel has performed varying positions in banking, higher-education, power and automation, health education and international development industries, which provided her with the expertise in managing small, medium and large IT projects as well as adults’ training and relationship management. An IT project manager at National Democratic Institute for the International Affairs and the Vice Chair of Advocacy at the Women in Technology, she is considered one of the promising leaders in her community.

Mrs. Tekinel has provided seminars on “Negotiation and Conflict Resolution”,“Public Speaking and Presentation Skills” and the project management knowledge areas both in US and internationally.

If you have any questions about the article or would like to get in touch with the author, please email esen.akter@pmiwdc.org

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