Excerpted from Six-Word Lessons to Avoid Project Disaster
As a young hot-shot information technology (IT) project manager I was convinced that I had it all together. I was bound and determined to show all those more senior to me how to deliver successful projects. It wasn’t until I messed up not one, not two, but three projects simultaneously that I grew up and recognized I wasn’t all that I thought I was. While that period in my professional career was particularly painful, it was also some of the best learnings I could have gone through. Since then I’ve had successes and failures, but the failures became less frequent because I learned to get comfortable with others providing a critical eye on my work and helping with the necessary precision questioning to keep me out of hot water. This is the genesis behind Six-Word Lessons to Avoid Project Disaster.
Following are 15 lessons focused on the project sponsor and the questions to ask to ensure active, focused, and engaged project sponsorship.
Some time back I was the executive sponsor responsible for developing a facility strategy for a new line of business. I empowered one of my project managers to develop the strategy which we would jointly present to our management. We both had visions of what we expected in the strategy but I didn’t ensure our points of view meshed.. My project manager was very competent in her job; however mind-reading was not one of her skills. The day before we were due to present the strategy, I did a walk-through with her. It wasn’t anything like I envisioned, and I knew the strategy in its current state wouldn’t be well received by our management. We went through a fire drill to get the strategy to a state where I thought it would be better received. We survived the review with our management, but it didn’t go nearly as well as it could have gone, and we went through a lot of pain (including a sleepless night) to rework the strategy.
I don’t fault the project manager one bit for the misstep. It was totally on me that the strategy wasn’t what I was thinking because I didn’t ensure our expectations were aligned at the outset. I also didn’t put checkpoints in place along the way to ensure we stayed aligned. It cost us not only in additional work but in relationship trust. I blew it.
My story unfortunately is just one of many I’ve seen and experienced through the years where expectations were misaligned. Due to my experiences I’ve become manic about setting and aligning expectations, so much so that when I get misaligned it’s like being punched in the gut. It’s at the leader’s feet to ensure clear expectation alignment when empowering someone to get something done. Those leaders who just expect someone to ask the right questions on the what, who and when of getting something done are just asking for frustration and rework. This is a “measure-twice-cut-once” application; a little extra work up front to ensure alignment can save a lot of downstream pain.
Need help to better define and stay aligned on expectations? Consider the following five tips:
As leaders, it is your job to take the lead on clearly aligning expectations for delivery. In this “measure-twice-cut-once” approach, well defined expectation alignment means less execution friction. Your team needs it.
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