Just the facts Ma’am

Never underestimate the strength and requirements for facts when undergoing project delivery, without facts then the truth becomes the victim. As project managers, a stigma can be attached, not only throughout the actual project but your career. Accurate and factual information is the cornerstone and lifeblood of successful project delivery. The ability to gather, analyses, and explain the facts of a situation is the foundation of good decision-making. Without all the facts it is difficult to have a thorough and clear understanding of all the possibilities and consequences that may exist in defining the project path. How it will impact a business or a decision-maker’s ability to make an appropriate decision or come up with an appropriate solution.

Good project management deals with the projects hygiene and has basics like requirements gathering, stakeholder engagement, and setting realistic deadlines as some of the more fundamental things that are part of project delivery. Most project managers have had to, at some point, front a steering committee or the executive to get their endorsement for a complex or major decision. Influencing people that can be peers, senior or even hostile to agree to a contentious decision is not easy. Typically, in this sort of situation, to have any chance of being successful, there are three basic rules to follow;:

  1. Provide all the detail – This is more than just a description of the issue and how the project got to where it is. It also needs to include the details of a proposed solution – pros, cons, benefits, risks, opportunity costs and so on. In essence: bring everything to the table even if it’s buried in the appendices and be prepared to have it scrutinized.
  2. Never go alone – A project manager—or any leader—is not there for their subject matter expertise; they are there to lead the initiative and facilitate an outcome against various measures such as time, cost and quality. They can’t know all of the details and do their job 100% effectively. A good project manager will try to surround themselves with a good team of people that know the content and have the confidence to leverage their expertise at key points. This will include inviting the critical project players to key steer-cos to help explain and influence a decision in a positive direction.
  3. Set realistic timelines – There are many perspectives on ‘reasonable’ timelines, and this is never truer than when trying to get a group of disparate people to make a difficult and complex decision. Driving an aggressive timeline that limits time for a considered review of information will, by design, limit the level of considered input a person can provide. This will, in turn, introduce the significant risk of alienating the very people whose support is needed to have on board, to the point that good ideas can get rejected on principle.

Project managers should not hide the facts but rather do the opposite – bring them out into the open and shine a spotlight for full scrutiny.  Secondly they should be surrounded with people who can explain difficult and complex content in an unbiased, clear way. And finally, always respect the decision-makers by giving them ample time to review the facts and form their own opinions.

The decision that the steer-co reaches may not be the one wanted, even if it is for the right reasons. It may simply be that once all the facts were known, they didn’t stand up to scrutiny and thus a different and potentially more successful path is chosen which should ultimately benefit the business. It may not be a picture of a comfortable scenario but once in the open the right decisions can be made, because if misinformation is provided and a project is delivered and has nothing but issues, then this does not bode well for the project manager or the team.

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