Blog | Consulting, Intelligent Automation

7 Things you need to know about leading a project

Sep 1, 2020 | 6 min read

In this exciting installment of Roboyo’s Lean Methodology Series, Consultant Ben Hart explains 7 useful tips for making sure your projects are a success.

Learn more about our consultation services that fuse people, technology, and performance to create harmonious, human+ workforces, or read on to discover Ben’s recommended 7 key points for leading a project.

For project success you need to be willing to roll with the punches. Often in project management or leadership we have a cognitive bias, that little voice in the back of our heads that tells us to stand our ground.

However, it’s important to ask ourselves how does new data change our understanding?

Tip 1:

Adapt your approach based on facts on the ground, when facts change, change your approach.

The needs of your people are greater than the salary they are paid. Or more specifically, employee satisfaction won’t just come from benefits and remuneration. It will come from collaboration and the ability to embrace change and new ways of working.

Flexibility, adaptability, and a digital-first mindset are key desirable factors for the dynamic, diverse workforce of today. These elements translate into a nimbler approach to project management and Lean Methodology can play a key role in achieving that.

Remember that the top-down, authoritarian approach of yesteryear is being phased out as millennials and Gen Z are more focused on an egalitarian (flat structure). People don’t look for just pay, they look for potential.

Relationships between leadership and teams are more informal than they used to be and it’s important to set boundaries around being polite, but not pals. Projects can become more efficient when they retain the adaptability to be driven by data, not by corporate power structures.

Tip 2:

Don’t allow a teammate to maneuver around the guidelines and procedures set in place.

All projects should be broken down and assigned to people with the right skills to be completed well. Allowing people to do the tasks they want to do, rather than those they are assigned to do, can backfire if there are skill discrepancies.

Part of recognizing and enforcing skills and their application is delivering feedback. Feedback is a gift, but we often focus on development through constructive criticism more than we focus on points of praise. Ensure you recognize the efforts of your team, whether that is through an email, shout-out in a team meeting or something with a monetary value attached (gift/bonus et al).

Skills, guidelines, and procedures are important to recognize and track for leadership to be effective. Have you ever asked a child to clean their room? I did and quickly realized this was too vague a request.

After dropping a large toy my daughter was trying to put back on a table, my response was that it was her fault for not moving it more carefully.

But in reality, I should have checked the task I was asking her to perform beforehand and broken it down into things within her capability to do and helped her with the parts she couldn’t safely do alone. She was, in short, not the right person to do the task I had set.

Effective leadership requires knowledge, and it also requires structure and discipline. All projects should be broken down and assigned to people with the right skills for them to be completed efficiently.

Tip 3:

Know your team well and create a vocabulary for skills and personality.

When managing a project, here at Roboyo we follow the ERAM model – expectation, resources, ability and motivation.

The key is understanding the needs of your people.

Create purpose and acceptance because human beings are hard-wired to want these things – it’s part of our hierarchy of needs and understand what motivates and demotivates your team.

Personality is key

The Merrill-Reid / Wilson model famously consists of four personality types.

Analytical – Data-driven and great and solving problems, Analytical people think a lot before speaking and ask plenty of questions.

Expressive – Able to effectively communicate no matter the obstacles, Expressive people are often warm and enthusiastic, but they may not always think things through before speaking.

Driving – Assertive and dominant, driving people see themselves and leaders and are usually decisive and quick to act.

Amiable – Keen to aim for harmony among all things, Amiable people might sometimes seem indifferent due to prioritizing diplomacy.

Widely used in business, this four-quadrant guide to personality types can help your teams assess themselves and each other to see their communication and working style more clearly. Usually, none of us fit squarely into one category, instead, we are a mix.

There are tests you can take for this personality model and others (such as Myers-Briggs) to develop a vocabulary around the types of personalities in your teams. A combination of knowledge about this and knowledge about skills will help you ensure the right people are working on the right tasks.

Tip 4:

Foster collaboration with plenty of opportunities for employees to inspire each other.

Cooperation doesn’t just happen; you need to create an environment where collaboration and team spirit is fostered by everyone involved in the project. Your role is to ensure they are constantly putting the team first rather than only caring about their individual work. Doing this without devaluing the specific work they are undertaking can be a challenge.

Remember my story earlier about my daughter?

Well, I have another daughter and her name is May. I didn’t ask May to help clean the room because she’s still very young, but the truth is, May shirks work. She tends to procrastinate a lot. She doesn’t realize she’s doing this, and she sees any effort that she has made as sufficient.

Rather than look to tackle that, I used to ignore it. But then my other daughter started to realize that there really were no consequences if she didn’t try.

When this happens in the workplace and colleagues are underperforming, you need to understand the reason for this. Laziness will rarely be the reason for underperformance.

Use active listening, by this I mean think deeply about what the person has said and check your understanding of the situation. Validate this by asking for evidence; if they say they’re stretched with other projects, engage with other project leads to understand their POV.

Ascertain if this is a personal or professional problem. Remind the employee of policies in place to support their work. Once you have reviewed the support available, guide them through how things can improve. Explain what that looks like, how that can be measured, and how both you and your colleagues can support them.

Tip 5:

If a deadline looms don’t cut corners to meet it, you will damage overall project quality and any advantages will be lost.

Sometimes the means don’t justify the end. We can often be so focused on timeline delivery that we start to accept slippage in all other areas to prevent the timeline from being extended.

However, there are tried and tested methodologies for delivering projects successfully and disregarding control, approach, and governance in the name of dragging a project over the line on time rarely, if ever, bears the right fruit.

Let’s say you have a 15-minute daily huddle with clear objectives – precise updates on each activity being undertaken and to call out any risks or issues. If people keep derailing the meeting, or deviating from the agenda, it’s important to keep them on track and not allow conversations to devolve into ambiguous chit-chat.

The purpose of the meeting will never be irrelevant, it must remain the focus. If deadlines are approaching, sticking to best practices always becomes more important, not less important.

Tip 6:

When team members on a project don’t conform to the project plan or seem like they may derail it, there are four simple ways to improve compliance.

1. Reinforcement of positive behavior

People are following the correct processes, the approved governance, and methods in place. Be sure to call this out so peers can see this as the preferred modus operandi and give plenty of praise!

2. Non-response

If there are behavioral concerns that aren’t prescribed and are subjective (e.g., soft skills), you can let these slide to allow teammates to have autonomy over their work.

3. Negative reinforcement

If someone is straying from the herd, follow up with private conversation/email/feedback with corrective action and an explanation to keep them focused on best practices.

4. Formal reprimands for the most severe breaches

For example, DPA breaches or other inappropriate actions, that need to have a formal conversation. These should be taken up in coordination with HR.

Ultimately by making it clear to your team that this is the way a project will be managed you can set their expectations. They will be prepared for the praise (hopefully a lot!) and any remedial responses outlined above, if and when they become necessary.

Tip 7:

Project managers/leaders need to build an environment where failure is accepted.

It may sound bold to say that you should universally create a culture where failing is okay, but that’s exactly what you should do.

To avoid analysis paralysis, it’s vitally important to make your team feel safe and comfortable with failure. When something doesn’t work, it’s an opportunity to find a solution that does. It isn’t a reason for employees to feel bad.

There will always be a degree of ambiguity in the development of new and innovative projects and the truth is we can’t have all the answers all the time. Sometimes a theory doesn’t pan out and that needs to be okay.

Fear of failure within teams leads to inaction and anxiety. It creates obstacles and project delays. The opposite, embracing failure and accepting that failure is an inevitable part of the process creates contingency resourcing, fosters team spirit, builds empathy, and provides a dynamic working culture which embraces risk, rather than shying away from it.

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