Leading Projects and Businesses

Pen and DiaryProjects and Small Businesses have a great deal in common yet the skills required to successfully run both are very rarely considered. Any small business will have a business plan, some more detailed than others but each including objectives that are time-bound and resources, including people, that have to be considered for the life of the business. It’s no different for a project.

Just like businesses, projects can see changes in their objectives as their environment evolves and they endeavour to modify what they are doing to better fit in with it. Just like businesses, projects may come to a grinding halt if what they are doing is no longer needed – the costs involved and the time and effort in closing down a project must never be underestimated, they can form a project in their own right.

So if the mechanics and fundamentals of running a small business and a project are similar are the leadership issues similar too? I would argue that they are. Leading a small business involves recruiting, developing, maintaining and retaining suitably talented individuals and refreshing that talent pool as and when required. Project Leadership is exactly the same with the same challenges and issues as are encountered by business leaders.

In fact, I’ve seen many project teams that are far bigger than many small businesses and it’s dealing with those challenges around project leadership (not project management) that take up so much time and energy for those in the leadership positions. They may have the title Project Manager, Project Director or something similar but the reality is that if they don’t recognize that their leadership of their projects is what matters then they will continue to experience significant issues of delay, cost over-runs and under-performing teams.

So could a successful small business leader transition into leading a project of similar scale? I would say so.



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Quiet Stakeholders Aren’t Always Happy Stakeholders

For some people the idea of stakeholders staying quiet for the duration of their project might sound like paradise, something to strive for even. Being left to just get on a deliver what was asked for in the first place without any interruption surely must be bliss for anyone working in a project team. Well, maybe it is and once we wake up from this wonderfully contented dream and return to reality we realize that trying to make it happen by closing down communications with people outside the immediate project team doesn’t make much sense (although I’ve seen it tried lots of times).

Unfortunately what happens is that, perhaps after a difference of opinion or a change in requirement, the project team decides to go all incommunicado with their stakeholders and metaphorically puts up the “We’re busy – do not disturb!” sign. This can work for the stakeholders of course as they too don’t want to get into another difficult situation or conflict – after all, they want the project delivered. 

Such naivety can appear to be working until there has to be some form of communication between the project and the outside world. Starting that conversation again from scratch is never easy and the relationship needs to be re-established at the same time as an important piece of project communication. What happens next is the relationship re-establishment gets forgotten and the cycle of differing opinions and conflict starts up again. Hardly helpful for anyone.

So if deliberately not communicating with stakeholders in the miss-judged belief that they only get in the way and all the talking and reporting just takes you away from working on the project what should you do when some of your stakeholders are quiet and don’t initiate much communication with you? Should you take it as a blessing in disguise and get on with the project or should you be the proactive ones and make ‘first contact’?

There are a number of reasons why stakeholders might not be as communicative as perhaps a project might expect them to be:

Content with project progress – they may hear from other avenues how the project is progressing against the plan and are happy with it. Entirely possible, but wouldn’t it be worth just making a call to clarify this?

Other priorities – or even other projects that they find more interesting. It’s a project’s responsibility to appreciate where it sits in its organisation’s priorities. The only way to really find this out is my maintaining a regular dialogue with those stakeholders who are ‘in the know’.

Don’t know – sometimes stakeholders, especially in large organizations, don’t understand the way projects work and might assume that once something has been set in motion they can simply get on with their other work and wait until successful delivery. If your stakeholders don’t have an appreciation of what projects are about isn’t it your responsibility to keep them apprised of what’s going on? After all, there may be a time when you need their assistance.

Lost interest – you might be working on your project all the hours you can but none of your stakeholders will be, they have other jobs to be getting on with. This is why you need to be careful and considerate when you do engage them because you are doing so for two reasons. Firstly, to let them know how things are progressing and any issues that are arising and secondly, to ensure you have their support for the project in the future. If some stakeholders have gone all quiet on you and you don’t know why it’s imperative that you engage them to ensure that they haven’t lost interest in the project as this could be symptomatic of wider issues in your organisation.

A set of quiet stakeholders isn’t something that a project should be aspiring to cultivate. If some stakeholders are quieter than others or become less communicative than they have in the past then that’s a signal that something needs checking out.

Some Do’s and Don’ts for dealing with quiet stakeholders:

Do:

  • Make contact with them or their representatives to understand their level of continuing interest in the project.
  • Look at how you are already communicating with them, if at all, and consider any changes that might suit them better.

Don’t:

  • Ignore the silence and focus on those stakeholders who shout loudest.
  • Assume that a quiet stakeholder is a happy stakeholder – they just done’ know until you ask them.

Remember that a project’s stakeholders are its allies and advocates and it’s down to those working in the project to stay engaged with them. This does take time away from what some might say is direct project work but ensuring you have a well engaged and supportive set of stakeholders will pay off in the end.