by Terri Carbone
Team input is crucial for the success of a project. Before making any promises to stakeholders about deadlines or deliverables, an effective project sponsor will consult their team—and make sure their project manager (PM) does the same.
A well-managed project includes certain critical documents—a project charter, project plan, and risk list. To ensure that these documents are rooted in reality, project sponsors must make sure that their PM goes straight to the source: the team members who are actually accomplishing the work. If team members aren’t consulted in their making, these documents are little more than wish lists and speculation. If you think that doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, you’re absolutely right. When teams are ignored, projects fail.
How do you, as project sponsor, make sure your PM is effectively engaging the team? You review their work.
Typically, the review process has been deemed too “in the weeds” for most project sponsors, since most have been taught to lead from afar. Please do not make that mistake. It takes only a modest amount of time and brainpower to do a great assessment of a project charter, project plan, or risk list. And there’s no telling how much stress and hassle you’ll save yourself and your team by catching potential problems at the start and nipping them in the bud.
Your first question should always be: “Who put this document together? Was there input from the team?” If the PM says, “I put this together” or “I talked to the resource managers,” your response should be: “Go back. Get input from the team.” You must require—not simply recommend—that your PM go to the team, or else they might not do it. Not because the PM is sneaky or lazy, but because they might presume it would take too much time to consult everyone. They might presume that they (the PM) or the team members’ managers will simply set the deadlines and the project team will hustle to make it work. Or they might be operating from a place of wishful thinking, and the resulting plans are based on optimism rather than realism. Maybe “this is the way it’s always been done.”
Whatever the reason, your response has to be: “Go back. Get input from the team.” The people doing the work are the only ones who can give an accurate accounting of what all is involved in completing a task, how long it will take, and what risks are involved. They know their workload, their schedule, and the challenges they face. If they’re given the opportunity to review the project plan and provide feedback, then you’ll know that the project plan is solid. If they’ve had an opportunity to air their concerns in a risk workshop, you’ll know that your PM has uncovered all the risks and made a plan for mitigating them. Anything less and you’re setting the team up to fail.
You’ll find—especially at first, as you set new and higher standards for your employees—that when you ask critical questions, the answers will be unsatisfactory. For instance, when you review the project plan, you might ask, “Did your team agree to these task deadlines?” And the answer may very well be, “Err…no, but I know they can meet them.” If this is the case, you must say, “Well, ask the team, and bring this back to me for a second review when you’ve updated it based on their input.” And then, make sure that the updated plan is delivered.
To make follow-up as painless as possible, you can ask right then and there that the PM report in on a certain day. Set a clear deadline and note it in your calendar. And when the day rolls around, make sure to check in. It won’t take long before your team realizes that you are serious. The more faithfully you stick to your review and follow-up processes, the sooner your team will start delivering acceptable documents on the first try.