Leading a project through periods of upheaval and change can be daunting. As we start a project we expect that change will hit us sometime in the reasonable future, and then we learn that the change is happening right now. Our clients expect steady state results while we are working with a high level of uncertainty. We think the ground is shifting underneath us. How can business results ever be consistent?
First of all, assess your strengths in the situation. What are you good at? In what areas will you excel even with the changing circumstances?
Secondly, where will the project delivery or development be most affected by the coming changes? You cannot know for sure where the changes will hit your operation. Take your best guess at the impact of the changes. How much time will you need to do the job right – according to the standards you’ve always been working with?
Third, trust the talented people on your team. Level with them, and ask them to help you put together a modification plan. Call the folks who work with you – the ones that you trust – and ask them for alternatives. Look for ways to deliver most of the project deliverables on time and in cost without adding over time and unacceptable costs.
Fourth: think flexibly. You may not be able to reach the project goals as specified at the start. How do you optimize given the way circumstances have changed? How do you deliver more information along with the desired project goals?
Fifth: do some horse trading. Undoubtedly, you’ve talked about project creep with decision-makers before. The client wants something changed out of your original agreement. Of course, the client always wants something more while you are working harder, and the price doesn’t change. Your world has been changing, and it has been changing as well for the client. What was true six months ago is now a different set of circumstances. You can’t make your team work any harder than 100%, in fact; they’ll need some time just to check their work and revitalize themselves.
You started out with an agreement to the client, and now your circumstances are different as they are different for your client. Ask your client if the established goals are still unchanged. Offer to be flexible in adapting to new goals, if you can adjust some of the outcomes yourself. Make sure your client treats you respectfully for the hard work that you’ve already done and is appreciative of the sense in which you want to explore new outcomes. Mind you, you are not agreeing to work 18-hour days and have your budget cut at the same time. However, if you think flexibly, you may be able to help the client get to what’s important to them faster if you change some of the conditions that are important to the implementation team.
Moving through change and upheaval is part of the work of the modern project manager. You must emphasize nimbleness and flexibility in the way you work. There are some things you will not be willing to compromise over. Make sure you understand what you must adjust and what cannot be. Build a team of professionals around you, whom you can trust to stand by with you and hold fast to what’s imperative.
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