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Finding the “Silver Lining”
By Susan Peterson

Often a project manager and his/her team only hear and read criticism about the level of effectiveness of their work. It’s always easy to criticize. There are media personalities who make quite comfortable salaries filling the air waves with nasty remarks, sarcasm and cynicism. Seldom, if ever, do these same people offer constructive, realistic solutions or even provide alternatives. After listening to so much negative chatter, we can find our own mental attitudes going sharply into a slump. The same is true for project managers and project team members who may feel that they are constantly under attack at every turn.

What can project managers do to promote a realistic sense of perspective about how projects are proceeding? The first step is to focus on the goals for the project outcomes. For example, if one of the goals was to improve the design of an existing product, what specific improvements have been achieved? If it’s early in the project and the improvements are not yet evident, perhaps there has been demonstrated progress with major customers in regard to innovative design strategies.

A second step is to recognize that many projects are lengthy. “Planning successes” in the form of small, tangible deliverables at appropriate intervals can provide positive focus for team members. This technique also aids the project manager in monitoring overall performance in order to take corrective action before major disasters occur.

Finally, it’s perfectly acceptable to let people know that progress is being made. Team members can get buried in details and deadlines. They may need to be reminded that the project is actually making strong progress. Those outside of the project also need to be informed of progress in terms that they will understand. The board of directors may not be excited that a “deliverable” has been accomplished, but they will take notice of what the project is doing to promote stockholder confidence. The project manager can translate the accomplishment of a deliverable into more understandable, non-project terms.

It is important to remember that there needs to be a balance between positive and negative project “news”. We’ve all seen projects that had much fanfare and seemingly no problems but that ended in disaster once the clouds of euphoria disintegrated. Much has been written about the need to plan project parties and to always provide food and drink at project meetings in order to bolster morale. However, most team members recognize these tactics as superficial and meaningless if the team is not proud of the project’s progress and achievements. If there truly is little “good news” on a project, it may be time to either substantially modify the project goals and/or the approach or terminate the project before its planned completion. However, before taking such drastic measures the project manager should assess the accomplishments in contrast to the problems in order to make an informed decision.

© 2010 Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved

Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices. Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course as well as the Project Portfolio Management course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee. She can be contacted at susanada@aol.com.

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