As a Project Manager, it is going to be necessary to pave the way through obstacles that come up as the project progresses. Some say that this is the main responsibility of a Project Manager, and I tend to agree. It is up to the Project Manager to ensure that obstacles are dealt with and mitigated before they affect the project team and the project itself. Generally, there are three different kinds of obstacles that projects face: Technical, Political, and Emotional. Today, we will discuss how to avoid and manage them.
Technical Obstacles – The best way to describe technical obstacles is through a Star Trek reference – Scotty from Star Trek was the technician that was always faced with the impossible technical issue that would either seal the fate of the Enterprise, or save the day. Every issue was absolutely impossible to resolve, and yet every episode ended with the team alive and well, revering Scotty as the hero. Television has given non-technical people a false sense of what technology can do. With as many advances that we’ve seen in technology over the past few decades, we cannot simply wish and therefore receive. However, it seems that many projects start with an idea of how to make things better through technology – and the technology team is rarely consulted. By the time the Technology department is included in the planning discussions, the decisions have already been made, and the technology team is forced to either say no to the project (causing fear of political repercussions or unemployment), or come up with a sub-optimal solution that nobody is happy with.
This scenario is easy to avoid by simply involving the technology team as soon as the words “computer”, “software”, “server”, “website”, “internet”, and/or “the cloud” are uttered. Technology groups have people with specific expertise in these areas, and should be consulted before any requirements are discussed and documented. In fact, some technology teams have specific roles for documenting technical project requirements. It seems prudent to utilize those resources if they are available to you. By including the experts early, you can avoid many of the pitfalls and obstacles that many technology projects face on a regular basis.
On the other hand, if you are given a project that has already completed the Requirements Document, and does not have Technical buy-in – not all is lost. Much of the time, technicians are able to give customers what they *need* if not what they are *asking for*. If you can distill the requirements to what the end-users will be trying to accomplish, you will be able to take that to the technology team and ask them to come up with a solution that may be able to fit the need. You’ll have to communicate openly with all sides of the project groups to make sure that everyone is in agreement on how to move forward before updating the Requirements Document. Concessions may need to be made on many sides, and the project may take longer and/or cost more than initially estimated – but the important thing to consider is that in the end, you’ll have a technically sound solution when you finish the project.
Political Obstacles – No matter where you go, or what you do – you’ll run into office politics. Decisions will be made seemingly with no regard for sanity; and at some point, you’ll be stuck with a project that on the outside has full executive support, but in reality, seems to be without any support at best, or outright sabotage at worst. In order to deal with the lack of buy-in, it is necessary to determine why your project lacks the support it needs. What aspects of your projects affect other departments negatively? Will it cause layoffs? Will it enable another department to take over a system previously owned by a different group? People rarely get in the way of projects for no reason. As a Project Manager, you will need to determine the motivation behind the obstacles you’re facing. Once you know the motivation, you can work towards resolving the conflict.
The main thing to do is communicate. Make sure that people know what you are trying to accomplish, and why. When you talk about your project goals, some people will let you know their concerns up front. If you listen to those concerns, you may find something that you missed, or you may figure out why you’ve lost some buy-in, and you can act on that knowledge. Just make sure that you give every concern the time it deserves. You’ll find that you face less opposition when you listen to people’s concerns.
Emotional Obstacles – Projects are stressful. The different people within your team will deal with stress in a different way. There will be times when those coping mechanisms will conflict. Tempers will flare, and emotions will run high. It is part of your job to make sure that emotional peace can reign supreme. You’ll need to manage conflicts within your team, either by arbitrating differences or separating people onto separate tasks. Each situation will be different and you’ll need to respond to each one on a case by case basis.
No project goes perfectly. Things get in the way of every project that has ever been managed. It is up to you as the Project Manager to make sure that the obstacles that come up do not force the project to fail. Communication will be the most important part of mitigating those obstacles. Your team will be counting on you for that.