Let’s Talk About It

One of the keys to successful project management is holding the right conversations on the right issues at the right times. For any given initiative, there will be a handful of conversations that the best project managers will make sure take place. Unfortunately, too often, silence and suspicion rule — and fail. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Organizational and performance training provider Vital Smarts has conducted ground-breaking research in this area, studying more than 2,200 projects at 40 major corporations. The research has been distilled into five crucial conversations that are critical to the success of most projects, and yet are consistently avoided. They can be summarized as:
 
1. Do we confront an AWOL sponsor?
2. Do we challenge arbitrary deadlines and inadequate resources?
3. Do we confront people who are inappropriately influencing priorities?
4. Do we deal with ineffective or absent team members?
5. Do we openly discuss problems before they cause failure?
 
ProjectsAtWork has been following this research since initial findings were presented in 2006. Recently, David Maxfield, director or research at Vital Smart, spoke with us for an upcoming series that looks deeper into why these conversations are avoided and how project managers and executives can encourage them to happen.

First and foremost, project leaders must take action to create a culture where crucial conversations are consistently held and held well, where people feel it’s safe to speak up, Maxfield says. “Are project managers feeling able to speak up and influence sponsors? If they don’t feel empowered and it isn’t safe to speak up, then your not going to be able to improve the success of your projects.”
 
Second, leaders should measure their progress in creating this kind of culture as a leading indicator of project success. This is essential, but it’s not enough. “Think about what goes through my head when I have a concern about what someone’s doing. I know I should speak up, but I don’t want to, no matter how safe the environment is. And so individuals can make an immediate difference without waiting on leaders by increasing their individual competence at holding crucial conversations. It’s not just top-down. We all need to build these skills.”

In our upcoming series, starting in May, we hope to shed light on how to do just that.

Aaron Smith, Editor, ProjectsAtWork.com

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