Provided by: Sharon Geeling
Sharon has been a project manager for 15 years, primarily in the financial services sector. She describes herself as a firm supporter of recognised good practice in her approach to project management. “Give me a good set of tools and techniques then I will use them and make them work. I like this approach, but sometimes it is difficult to make it work when we are engaging with resources over which we have little authority and for whom our project is often not their priority.”
Understanding the power of participative planning
Sharon’s story was sparked by a conversation with her husband who had just attended a management course at the London Business School. On the course there had been a management game where a team was given an exercise to complete. The manager was instructed to control exactly what the team did – instruct them what to do to complete the task. The team struggled to understand and complete the task – each individual waiting for instructions from the manager. The exercise was then repeated, but this time the manager was able to share the aims of the activity. The results were startling different. Following the briefing from the manager, the team identified between themselves what needed to be done and quickly completed the task. This exercise is designed to illustrate how (and when) participative planning, sharing the outcomes to be achieved, can have a major impact upon the success of the group.
Sharon could relate to the lessons from the exercise. Her teams were increasingly large and the tasks were increasingly complex and she felt she was spending all her time just motivating and cajoling them to action. As she put it “A project manager’s primary responsibility is to deliver things within the constraints set by the business. We facilitate this through the way we engage resources and that means making our teams as effective as possible.”
Engaging team members in decision making
Sharon decided to review and change her approach with her teams. “I now put a much greater emphasis on the way I engage the team members – even and especially those I don’t own. I make sure they are clear about the outcomes and that they are engaged in making decisions about the best approaches to take. I see my job as making sure the vision to be achieved has been translated in a way that allows the team members to engage with it, own it and seek out ways to deliver what is needed by the client”.
In the initial workshops with the team, Sharon encourages the group to debate and discuss the approach to be taken. She uses this process to clarify roles and to start to ensure that accountabilities are taken-up by groups and individual team members.
“You can’t simply assign accountability it has to be taken and engaged with. Once this is achieved I can take on the role of ‘clearing the obstacles’ to enable my team to be as productive as possible.”
Sharon has found as a result of this new emphasis she is enjoying her job even more. “I feel I am making a difference to the project by the way I manage it. In the past I felt I had to put so much energy into pushing and directing the team, now with shared goals really embedded into the team practices, I feel that the energy, the drive to achieve, is coming from the team…and me.”
An empowered team is a driven team
When asked what she felt was critical to achieving an empowered teams she provided these key factors:
- Make sure you are able to effectively communicate what the client wants
- Be prepared to support your team leaders, even if events don’t proceed as planned
- Avoid being the quality approver. This is not the key job for the PM – you are there to facilitate delivery not to be the domain specialist
- Make sure you use the right questions to prompt the team into action. Here are mine:
- What is your interpretation of what the project (and your team) must achieve
- What do you think our approach should be
- Have you explored the options?
- What are the products to be delivered? Are we clear about them and will they satisfy the client needs?
- What are your plans – the key milestones must be mapped out.
- How will you ensure quality of the deliverables?
- Is this timeline realistic?
- What is your team like – what support will they need?
- What are the issues and risks? What are your ideas for resolution and management?
Many thanks to Sharon for being interviewed as part of the Success Stories Shared Initiative.
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