One of the project manager’s key responsibilities is to remove obstacles. Many see management and leadership as an oversight task. Instead, a project manager should strive to balance being informed with getting involved when necessary. The role requires more leadership than management. This means not only knowing when to get involved, but how to get involved.
What follows are five examples of typical obstacles a project manager may face and how to remove those obstacles.
Obstacle 1: The uncooperative 3rd party
Scenario: One of your team members has been trying to get security access to an application or data set. He submitted the request to the external 3rd party. He has also followed up multiple times via email and phone with nothing but an automated response.
Obstacle removal: The PM should escalate this with the management of the department that is being an obstacle. If another group in the organization (or outside the organization) is unresponsive, it is up to management to confront the issue and get resolution.
Diplomacy needs to be used to avoid making enemies. It may be that management in the other department was unaware of the non-response. Making an initial inquiry to determine the facts is the best first step.
If they continue to be unresponsive, you may have no other course but to expose them, but it should be your last resort.
Obstacle 2: Incongruent task dependencies
Scenario: A team member has finished her task and is waiting for one or more team members to complete other tasks before she can continue.
Obstacle removal: The project manager plays a role similar to an orchestra conductor. She should make sure all team members are playing in concert with each other. When one person has a task to complete which is dependent upon one or more other tasks, the PM should monitor and ensure all dependent tasks are completed in time in order to avoid project delays.
Obstacle 3: Lack of communication between team members
Scenario: Two team members do not get along with each other. As a result, they do not communicate. Neither knows what the other is doing, which causes lags and delays on the project.
Obstacle removal: One of the realities of the work place is that not everyone will be best friends. When two people don’t get a long, they have a professional responsibility to act in a professional enough level to avoid being a detriment to the project.
If one or more people on a project refuse to communicate, it is the project manager’s responsibility to force the confrontation. Initially, a meeting between the offending team members should be held to air out the differences. You may be able to help them resolve the disagreement and they can go on being productive team members.
If the non-communication perpetuates, the project manager should identify the root cause. Is one of the team members being unreasonable? Are both of them unreasonable? If either – or both – refuse to act in rational ways, they should be removed from the project. Many managers will endure bad behavior from team members to avoid having valuable project knowledge walk out the door. Losing that knowledge is much better than allowing a team member to poison the culture and morale of a project team.
For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management
Obstacle 4: Team member spinning her wheels
Scenario: A member of the team has been working on a task for a week when she estimated that it would take three additional days. She states that it was just more complex than she had anticipated. When offered help, she refuses saying she just needs more time.
Obstacle removal: People will underestimate tasks. It is the nature of estimation. However, if someone exceeds their estimate by more than 25%, the project manager should get someone involved to (a) determine what assumptions were missed to cause the additional work; (b) assess what has been completed; and (c) re-estimate what is required to complete the work.
Having an outside person get involved allows the PM to determine whether the team member is simply spinning their wheels, estimated badly or needs some serious help.
Obstacle 5: Abuse of a policy
Scenario: Although your company has no formal work from home policy, it is generally granted to people with extenuating circumstances, such as a sick child at home. Over the past several weeks, you’ve noticed more people using the privilege for insignificant reasons without prior approval.
Obstacle removal: Work from home advocates would argue that the solution to this problem is to allow people to work from home. But there are a number of issues at hand here. First, company policy trumps a manager’s opinion. Additionally, the nature of many projects necessitates face to face collaboration. It can also create a slippery slope if the team thumbs their nose to standards and policies.
As I proposed in my book Project Management 101, the project manager should establish a set of team norms with the team at the beginning of the project. This is a list of guidelines and standards of behavior that everyone on the team agrees to follow.
The work from home policy should be established when team norms are agreed upon. If the policy is abused, the project manager should remind the team of the norm that everyone agreed to. If the team norm was not established at the beginning of the project, there is nothing stopping the project manager from establishing a new one and getting the team on board with a new team norm mid-project.
What obstacles have you had to remove for your team?
If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.
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