But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy.
Robert Burns from To A Mouse
And that just about sums up the whole issue of Project Management: plans get messed up causing much grief and pain.
Unless, of course, you are the kind of Project Manager who has contingency plans up your sleeve. Even then, both poor mousie and all the rest of us can come a cropper when, through no fault of our own, our plans go awry.
Recently, we ran a Breakfast Taster which in the end went very well indeed. That is, the actual event. No one knew about the supplier who couldn’t supply what we needed in time, the other supplier who missed a deadline, the crossed wires in communication (yes, even we….) where yet another supplier got very mixed messages which we had to sort out.
What prevents a project disaster isn’t that everything goes smoothly (you get a gold star if you’ve ever managed a project that hasn’t had something go a bit wrong!!), it’s that you know how to recover in time to avert disaster. Even if a project tumbles into disaster, it’s whether you have the skill to then haul it back onto solid ground.
Here are some of my personal rules when things go wrong.
The First Rule: keep your cool.
There’s no benefit to losing your temper when things go wrong and shouting at colleagues or suppliers or heaven forefend, even your client (internal or external). You can feel like a roiling volcano inside, but if you keep your emotions in check others will perceive you as reasonable, easy to work with and are more likely to want to work with you in the future.
The Second Rule: forgive other people’s mistakes.
Obviously, that goes hand in hand with rule number one. When someone else screw up, avoid blaming and just get on with finding a solution with them. In our experience, if you make it all right for the other person they are far more likely to go the ‘extra mile’ to sort out the problem because you’re not finger pointing and they aren’t feeling defensive or guilty (or both).
The Third Rule: keep everyone in the loop.
When disaster is looming, it’s really important that everyone knows what’s going on. The old trope about two heads are better than one really is true. When people are kept informed, there’s a far greater chance of finding a way through than if you sit with it yourself and stew over how it all came to pass.
The Fourth Rule: acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge.
Even when someone makes a hash of it, find something to praise them for. Also, look for opportunities to acknowledge people’s efforts throughout the project. It’s very debilitating when things go wrong to feel your best efforts have been in vain. Giving people recognition motivates them to want to do better
The Fifth Rule: debrief.
Believe it or not, we’ve heard of many project that never have a debrief with everyone who was involved. By looking at what well and of course, looking at where things fell apart, you are far better able to prepare for the next project and will be better armed to pre-empt difficulties.
Follow these ‘rules’ and your projects actually will run better even if it gets bumpy along the way.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory