I don’t know about you, but I’ve led quite a few technology projects with very skilled resources – some of whom carried pretty good-sized egos along with them. And yes, I’m sure that in the role of PM, I’ve been guilty of that as well. Probably many times when I’ve not even been aware – as dutifully pointed out countless times by my loving and very forgiving wife.
So, you have two, three, four or more big egos on your project. How do you manage that chemistry? And what if you’re one of those big egos? If you’re not careful, it can lead to lots of chest bumping and non-productivity. Or worse, lots of productivity but lots of misdirection leading to lots of wasted budget, wasted time, and a customer wondering who is really in charge of the engagement. I don’t think anyone wants to be the project manager leading that type of a project. We have enough to worry about on a daily basis of what could be rearing its ugly head to plague our project today or tomorrow or next week without having to worry about the petty ego issues and how our customer can be affected by any resulting infighting. It’s just not one of the risks I put down on the risk identification sheet as I start the project. I prefer to try my best to avoid it…and the best way to do that is with proper leadership.
Take charge early
First and foremost, the project manager is in charge. It says so right there in the title. Even if you’re new to the game, you have to fake it till you make it. You’ll never win over the big egos on your project just by saying, “I’m in charge.” That won’t work…I tried it early in my career and it was a big fail. The big egos will laugh and win. You have to establish control early and take charge of the engagement. Most of all that comes from being prepared. Early in the engagement – at least from my experience – you start without the full team. But you start planning immediately. Make sure that when you get your full technical team on board, that you have a good schedule in place that shows that you understand the project, the goals of the engagement and what tasks are going to be required in order to get you and your team to that end solution. Certainly, in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to build ownership of the project, work with the team and employ the use of mind mapping software to engage their thoughts and opinions on the overall project needs, goals and direction.
If you can have good, solid estimates associated with the tasks that you put into the initial project schedule and you have the proper tasks in place that show you know – at least in general – what it’s going to take to get the project done, then you’re showing your team that you have the project under control and you have the skills and knowledge to make good estimates and good plans for the project.
You need them to verify and provide input, but you are the kick-starter. It’s your engagement to run and they are there to perform the tasks that you assign to them. This all sounds much easier than it actually is, but it’s the path you need to be leading them down so you get and continue to have their compliance. You’ll need to be doing this throughout the project – you can’t rest on whatever success you had with this at the outset. If egos are really an issue, it won’t go away. You’ll have to continue to show consistency with excellent performance, leadership, accurate estimates, and good decision-making. And remember, these are your teammates, not your enemies. Continue to work on building good relationships throughout the engagement…often times that is done by joining them in the trenches from time to time. Hands-on project dirty work never hurt any project manager…and it can be fun.
In Part 2, we’ll look at the need to display respectability and credibility to your big ego team members and that ever-present possibility that you may have to resort to replacing the problem resources.