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Project Management Has Changed. Have You?

Three tips for better teamwork, and five pitfalls to avoid.

The project management landscape is changing radically. So is the process for building teams and retaining talent capable of thriving and succeeding in a fast-paced work environment. With advances in technology, upper management demands more, on tighter deadlines. In this environment, traditional methods of problem-solving are no longer as effective as they used to be.

The pitfalls of traditional project management include:

1. Engaging in a silo mentality. When project leaders do not share information across job descriptions or departments, team members may not have all the facts and data they need to succeed. Because they are not open to new ideas and disinclined to share outside a select circle, leaders may also overlook or not leverage colleagues’ critical capabilities and experiences. 

2. Not encouraging diversity of thought. Leaders who send a message of “my way or the highway” have a negative impact on project success. Their modus operandi shows disrespect for individuals’ values and discourages potential contributions from team members who may have constructive ideas to offer but are reticent for obvious reasons.

3. Forming transactional relationships. When team members are judged on how they performed in their last task or role rather than their overall performance, there is no sincere effort to develop long-term, sustainable relationships built on mutual respect. In this work culture, team members will hesitate to lead and own project outcomes.  

4. Not managing expectations. There is more here than overpromising outcomes to superiors. Often, leaders in this situation have a habit of assuming everyone thinks like they do. As a result, they either gloss over or don’t consider what other team members think and want in terms of specified timelines, defined approaches and deliverables. 

5. Failure to implement a workable communications matrix. There is nothing new or radical about the importance of good communication. Plan ahead to determine who in the company receives what information, when, how and from whom. In this way, project leaders can make sure the right people get the right messages, and that others aren’t loaded down with unnecessary information.

To complete projects on time with better results and stronger teams, consider these approaches:

1. Conduct periodic reviews of your team empowerment strategy. Statements of open-door policies that encourage individual member input will be met with cynicism or worse if they do not match the reality experienced by team members. Do individuals on the team believe the project environment is open enough for honest feedback? Does the culture encourage and foster innovation and diversity of thought? If the review concludes they do not, it is incumbent upon the leader to uncover stumbling blocks and eliminate them.

2.  Build deep relationships to ensure team productivity. Step back—perhaps with input from colleagues in different parts of the business who can provide fresh perspectives—and take an objective look at each team member’s qualities, contributions and engagements with co-workers. Avoid preconceived notions and consider stretch assignments for team members to build confidence.  

3.  When personnel challenges arise, tailor solutions to the needs of the individual. A team leader confronted by underperformance of a team member should address the issue with the individual, preferably in an informal setting, by expressing concerns and listening without making judgments. Reasons for underperformance may vary. For instance, the individual’s role in the team may not be the best match for their skills; personal expectations may be different than team expectations; or the individual may have a different working style than the project lead or others on the team. Develop an action plan that identifies the problem/issue, steps to be taken to overcome the problems and a timetable for a performance update. There are, of course, exceptions to this approach, such as deadlines or performance issues that may jeopardize the entire project unless corrected immediately. But if those do not apply, then unnecessarily stern dictates about team or job security at the outset are likely to exacerbate the situation and resolve nothing.

Leaders must balance the rigors and disciplines of project management with an approach that would have seemed counterintuitive only a few years ago: a flexible, scalable methodology encouraging transparency, supporting communications and nurturing relationships.

Syed A. Fazal is Vice President, Process Improvement and Project Management at JPMorgan Chase. His expertise is in identifying, developing and implementing technology and operation strategies to drive business growth, improve performance and profitability. 

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