Project Management = Relationship Management

I am one of those people that thinks that everything is about relationships.  Everything.

So, it is not surprising for me to think that project management is all about relationships.  But – no, really… That is the crux of this thing.  If you have your PMP or have studied to take it a number of times, you are trained to think it’s about the ‘Knowledge Areas’ like Integration Management, Scope Management, Cost Management, etc…  Yes, all of those good things are a very important backdrop.

A project is about delivering a service or good that meets a defined customer’s need and expectations.  Everything in the project is about getting to that point when you are done.  What was once a project turns into an operation or an actual service or product.  Once it has come to that point, did your project do what it was designed to do?  Did you meet your stakeholder’s expectations?

From the standpoint of a customer, it is very hard to know their expectations without relating to them.  In some form or fashion, you have to ask.  There is no way around it.  There are lots of ways to ask – focus groups, surveys, one on one conversations, meetings, research, observations, etc.  And because they are real humans, they are constantly changing.  Their thoughts on what is good and acceptable is changing daily with their new experiences with what they see around them.  In order to truly understand their needs, a project manager’s conversations with their stakeholders have to be an ongoing one.

Sometimes, I can be guilty of not wanting to know someone’s thoughts on a topic or their needs, because once I know I feel accountable to do something with the information.  What do you do with what you are learning from your ongoing relationship with the customer?  How do you show that you are listening and that you care?  Of course, their thoughts or feedback might not change the direction of something, but stakeholders – customers and project team members alike, need to know that you are listening and fully engaged in the relationship.

In addition to the customers, a good leader builds and manages a relationship with the project team members as well.   How is the journey for them?  Are they getting what they need to deliver on the things that are required of them?  How do they feel?  What?!?!?!?  How do they feel?  This is an IT project.  Yes – how do they feel?  

As the project leader, you know that one size doesn’t fit all in how you relate to people and how you work with them to help them bring forth their best work.  Do you ever have any of the following people on your project:

  • Manipulative tendencies- they really do not want to see the project be a success.  At every turn, they are doing little things to thwart progress
  • Hero personalities – they seem to invent crises to have something to save us from.  They love saving the day.
  • Information hoarders – they know a lot of information about a lot of different things.  However, they will not share the specifics unless you ask the right, precisely worded question.
  • Emotional wrecks – the project and everything else has them under a lot of stress at the moment.  You are not quite sure what sets them off, but every now and then, you are dealing with their melt-down and coaxing them back into the game.
  • Knowledgeable but extreme introverts – the guy that knows everything but he is extremely silent.  He is not an information hoarder; he just doesn’t like speaking up in forums.  If you want the real juice you need to have a one-on-one conversation
  • Do nothingers – this needs no explanation.  The person that can never get around to doing anything that they said they would do.
  • E-thugs – that woman who is great in the meeting when you asked for feedback, but when she gets back to her desk, she whips up an incendiary message to you and copies everyone to let them know how inept she thinks your approach is. (Sweet in person but deadly with a qwerty keyboard).  

You are not going to change who people are, but you do need to know who they are.  Once you know who they are, you can have a better strategy for interacting with those that are challenging to work with.  Accomplishing great things in a project requires being in a relationship with others, and being in a mutually beneficial and positive relationship with others as a project manager requires you to engage with the team.  I find that periodic one on ones with various members of the team allows me to better understand them and therefore better relate to them.  These small investments of time over a period of time adds up.  I also find it beneficial to share pieces of myself; that can happen in the 2-3 minutes before a meeting starts as we wait for the meeting to start.  Open up and you will find that others will open up in return.

As long as projects are composed of people, relationship management will be a very important part of project management.  You can have the best-defined plans, but if you do not get a grasp on managing the people and effectively working the relationships, you will not be as impactful of a leader as you could be.

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