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Boosting Morale in High Profile Projects
By Abby Dryer

High Profile projects can be very exciting. They can also be quite terrifying if project team members believe that the success or failure of the project will determine their employment future. As the economic landscape changes, some projects can be tasked with the honor of ‘saving the company’. To some, such a project is an exhilarating opportunity. To others, that same project can be interpreted to mean that a single imperfection will cripple their career. As a Project Manager, the most important part of resource and risk management is raising and maintaining morale for the team. The question is – how does one do that while maintaining the triple constraint?

The quick answer is also the least correct answer – throw money at it. Fear is not something that money or “swag” can make disappear. In fact, if the company’s financial security is in question, any form of expenditure may be interpreted as wasteful poor planning. Downsizing or layoffs followed by project ‘swag’ may leave some people wondering how many jobs could have been saved if they had spent the money on salaries instead.

The easiest and least expensive way to boost and maintain morale is through communication and public recognition. During regular status meetings, there is no better way to kick off the meeting than with recognition of a job well done. Accomplishments are easy to list, and calling out a team member that went above and beyond takes very little additional time or effort. Moreover, if there are no milestones or tangible accomplishments to speak of, open up the floor to allow others to recognize or thank team members for simply being helpful. Keep record of the recognition in the meeting notes. Some team members may be afraid that they are just another cog in the machine – a nameless drone that is either unnecessary or replaceable. Feeling appreciated and named does wonders for morale.

As the project progresses, it may be time to ask the Project Stakeholders to speak to the team; sharing their vision of how the project is going to help the company overall. If the team is in the weeds of the project, it is sometimes difficult to see the big picture, and lose sight of direction. Without direction, it is easy to forget why the team is working so hard and sacrificing so much in order to succeed. It is important to get everyone re-aligned and motivated, and acknowledgement from stakeholders with a fresh perspective can do wonders.

Sometimes, the situation isn’t good. Sometimes the situation is downright bad. Sometimes, it is best to just acknowledge it. As a Project Manager who has gone through the Risk Mitigation process, it becomes easy to switch to Plan B and move on. However, it may be more difficult for some members of the team to suddenly switch directions. Allow them some mourning time. Don’t allow excessive negative talk, but don’t gloss over real issues either. Acknowledge that the team has worked very hard, but things didn’t work out the way that everyone had planned. Share the new direction, keeping a positive attitude by pointing out the things that are now possible with the new plan. Discuss the Lessons Learned from the situation, and explain the plan for avoiding it in the future. Make the most of the situation by getting everyone back on track and facing the same direction again – and keep moving forward.

Project Team Morale can make or break a project. Low morale can cause expensive mistakes and slipped deadlines. As a Project Manager, it is important to maintain morale along with the triple constraint of the project. Recognition, acknowledgement, vision and acceptance are the easiest methods to maintain high morale without negatively impacting the project budget, scope, or schedule.

Abby Dryer, PMP is a Chicago-based Project Manager in the IT/Software Development industry. She focuses much of her energy on team-building and morale – as a cohesive team with high morale can be a determining factor in the success or failure of a project. You can read more of her musings at http://pmbabble.wordpress.com/

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