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Managing Projects

What if the team starts off pessimistic about the project?

Managing ProjectsMost team members are excited about working on a new project, even if a bit apprehensive. Generally they are excited about the possibilities and start off optimistic. It may certainly be “uninformed optimism” since they may not know enough about what the project entails just yet.

But what if they start off pessimistic about the project from the start? All doom and gloom. And – as if that is not enough – as the project manager no matter what you try you just can’t headway with some of the team. For some of the team members – nothing is right, nothing is sufficient, nothing will work – it’s the end of the world.

Take a deep breath! You can get past this.

First, we’ll assume that you have a sponsor who is onboard, recognizes the issues and is supportive of you – and will jump in if you need him to do so.

Begin by scheduling a meeting with the team members who have the issues to understand what is going on and develop a plan to move forward. We don’t all have to be best friends on the team but we must respect each other and learn how to work together effectively. Discussions in this meeting should focus on:

  • What is driving the pessimism?
  • What does the team need to move forward?

The goal is to understand the issues driving the pessimism and come to agreement on what the team needs that will satisfy them so they can move forward. Be really clear here regarding specifically what needs to be done. I have learned that for those team members who are just not going to move forward no matter what, you can spend way too much time trying to get them to come along to the detriment of the project.

If it is needed, have the sponsor involved in this discussion with the team. There have been two instances when I needed the sponsor’s involvement because of the situation. Sometimes someone higher up needs to help the team to move forward. In one situation, the team just didn’t want to do the project because they were happy with the way things were in the organization and the project was a big change. As much as I tried to move them forward, it required my project sponsor to explain that the organization was moving forward and they needed to come along.

When we can get the people together, we can begin to open up communications, share thoughts and address issues, in a professional manner. Consider an outside facilitator to help the team to listen to each other and really hear what someone else is saying. Until the team gets their concerns addressed, or feel heard, they cannot be productive. If they are not productive, the project cannot succeed.

In one of the situations where I needed to get a sponsor involved, the ultimate decision made was to remove the team member from the team and replace him with another. I saw it as a personal failure on my part. I have always worked diligently to develop strong working relationships with individuals on the team and was never able to do so with this particular team member. Regardless of what I did, or didn’t do, it was always a problem for this person. I’ll call it a personality issue; it happens. Although I worked, with the support of the project sponsor, to repair my relationship with this individual, it never happened. The sponsor ended up replacing the individual on the team. Frankly I think it was more than a personality issue, the individual just didn’t want the project to move forward. Had I kept trying to work it out with him and keep him on the team, the project would have suffered. All of my energy was going to him.

In many cases, with a bit of effort, the project manager can move the team past pessimism about the project. You just need to understand why the team is being so pessimistic. Often there is lots of history within the organization to consider. When you can get to the root of the issue, you can address it. Sometimes, it is just asking the question!

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