Save Projects by Being Open and Adaptable

Knowing how to save projects when they are in trouble can be a useful skill. However, many project managers only learn how save projects on-the-spot, when they find themselves in a situation where they need to step in and save the day – or else. This was the case for Naomi Caietti, an IT Project Manager and Project Management Consultant with over 10 years of experience. Below, she shares the lessons she learned about what it takes to save projects.

Rescue, Lead or Run

By Naomi Caietti, PMP

As a Project Manager (PM) only you are in control of your destiny; which path are you going to choose when it’s your turn to lead a troubled project?

Most project managers come up through the ranks in an organization by accident; this was certainly my story.

Working in a Project Management Office (PMO), you will find that managing multiple projects is a little like being a juggler in a circus. You must keep your focus to keep all the balls and batons in the air at all times in sync. If you start dropping things, this is often a sign of trouble. Project management is not for the faint of heart; otherwise everyone would be doing it. It’s both an art and a science to manage the reality of projects; people, processes and politics.

One day I was sipping coffee at my desk and my PMO Director did a drive by request. Yes, it was one of those requests done during your open office hours, when you’re cornered and near your peers. How can you say no? Yes, it was one of those moments where you listen intently, take a deep breath, your heart skips a beat; she says “It’s a new project!” First, a smile begins to form on my face and then (wait for it) she says “We need…” -my smile begins to fade – “We need a PM to rescue a troubled project in our Fiscal Services Group.” Whew, the thought goes through my head….rescue, lead or run. This was roll up your sleeves moment; I said “Yes I’ll take it on.”

I thinking, was this project a risk or reward? The project had definitely been in trouble for over a year; it needed a lifeline. There was no reward in delivering this project; it was already ridden with problems that the organization wanted to sweep under the carpet; it was costing more money every day.

Was it a stepping stone to my next project? No, it was test of my self motivation, courage, tenacity and mental toughness to get the project across the finish line. It was important to step out of my comfort zone, work on this project and grow a little (I hoped). A party was not in store for my team when we were done, but it did earn me respect from the IT staff and stakeholders who had lost respect for any prior PM who didn’t have the leadership skills to successfully implement this type of project.

Why had this project gone sideways and why was I the one picked to rescue it? A project manager’s core skills and leadership are one top reasons identified for project failure and the previous PM was not trained to lead a software development project with vendor oversight. Organizations should invest in their PMs or pick the right ones with experience. Picking me to rescue this project was not only strategic but it was acknowledgement that a credited PMP with years of public sector experience in vendor management, software development and leadership skills was the right choice.

Did I rescue the troubled project? Yes, it took me six months; you don’t want to be on a project like this for too long. I’m offering sage advice but if you ever have to lead a troubled project, read Rescue the Troubled Project by Todd Williams.

Lessons Learned:

Organizations need PMs who can step up to lead troubled projects:

Troubled projects need super star PMs
You must be self motivated with the drive and passion to multitask in most environments today. You may be managing multiple projects and need to be a juggler of time management and focus your attention on a myriad of project activities. Don’t let your other projects become troubled too.

Troubled projects need adaptable PMs
Projects in chaos lack documentation, historical information and good communication tools. Be ready to embrace ambiguity and adjust before you can turn this project around. Projects like this can take on a life of their own and as a project manager you are responsible to deliver your projects on time, within budget and that meet customer needs. It’s no small task so make it a daily focus to do the following: Be Open, Be Flexible, Be Present

Troubled projects need PMs with leadership skills
Exceptional communication skills are top core skills for PMs and 90% of a project manager’s job on a daily basis. Troubled projects require strong focus in this area; stakeholder expectations must be managed. You must recognize that this is one of your most important core skills to advance in your career; invest in training and personal development working with a mentor or senior project manager.

Naomi is a consultant, published author, speaker and recognized expert on personal growth and collaborative leadership development for project managers for over 10 years. She is a global speaker and a featured subject matter expert for the community with over 550K members. She was recently interviewed for the featured article in the January 2013 edition of PMI’s PM Network article The Blame Game and is a contributing author to Peter Taylor’s book The Project Manager Who Smiled released in June 2013.

Naomi Caietti, PMP / Project Management Consultant
Book Contributions: The Project Manager Who Smiled, Lessons Learned In Project Management, 140 Tips in 140 Words or Less
Twitter: @califgirl232

We would love to hear your stories about lessons you have learned while working in project management. If you have something to share, please send them to kim[at]onedesk[dot]com.

Related blog posts:
Project Success Lesson: Honesty is The Best Policy by Henry Chuks
Project Management Mistakes and Developing Lessons Learned by Robert Kelly
Share Knowledge in Small Parts: A Valuable PM Lesson by Peter Taylor
Handling Stress: A Lesson for Project Managers by Soma Bhattacharya
The Product Owner Is Your Best Customer, a PM Learns by Hala Saleh
Training Plans: Consider Different Skill Levels by Rob Prinzo

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