When I joined, chaos was everywhere: teams were terribly busy, clients were frustrated and calling to share their frustration, there was no project plan or list of tasks even listed and no list of clear requirements to actually match current project status etc. And of course, my boss was looking to see the progress and benefits the new project manager would instantly bring to the project.
What did I do? Back to my project management basics, I wanted to list tasks and calculate the critical path.
With so many fires to put down and no list of tasks in near sight, I panicked. Then I asked my manager's permission to speak to the clients. One by one, I have listened to their needs and objections. Then I promised to liaise with our teams and check the project progress. I reached to every team leader, only to hear of the large amount of work they are doing for the project and the constant pressure they have from customers to do more than initially agreed, by the same deadline initially set. Teams were under constant pressure with tones of email and calls from unhappy customers. The project issues escalated and reached to our management, putting more pressure on confused teams with too many directions to stretch to. I have asked every team leader to list aspects they had done that match the initial project, extra features they did, and list of "to do" features coming soon. I did reach back to the clients to offer my project status and feedback, and reassure them things are going on the right track. I also got the customer's buy in on the soon to come deliverables. Even by this time I have no list of tasks, no project plan shared with the team or a clear critical path.
Things I had to implement on all ends are listed below:
- Listen to the project customers. I did keep customers updated on the progress we were making and the extra features delivered in justification of the crossed deadline. This made the customers happier knowing that someone is actually listening to their needs. Also they didn't call as much as before, so our team had time to progress on the work.
- Educate the team to work on the initial project requirements. Any new requirement would be added on the next version of the product, with new specific deadline. Never say "No" to the client, just "not yet, please add your request in our request queue" was also a valuable lesson for all members of our team. This in turn allowed me to extend the deadline and allow customers to choose over extended deadline or wait for the new release.
- Educate my boss. That was one of the hardest thing to do, explain why the same task took a considerably amount of time when done by Team A versus Team B. This was one of the classical dilemmas I discussed in a previous post, "Peach versus Peas Jar Dilemma".
- Keep close contact to the project management team. Let them know the project progress and our pain points, the goods delivered by the team, the needs and very important, the potential threats we might be facing, from bad weather to plain flue.
My new job was for sure challenging in the beginning. As a project manager, I wasn't feeling at home with no task lists, no calendar and no progress bar. Instead, I had to use my people skills, communicating properly, listening to people and doing a lot of field work. And I can smile now, and applause my team.