Time Saving by Managing Up
Without some specific time saving strategies in place, you will soon be weighed down and overloaded, fire fighting the problem with the greatest short term urgency, or as I like to say “working in the project, rather than working on the project” the latter being where you ultimately want to be.
This is a technique you’d have heard of, sometimes mistakenly associated with people who are trying to get promotions in business, but more importantly, a technique to gain support for your projects and proposals and ensure un-realistic (time consuming) demands are not placed on you and your team by nervous senior managers in the name of ‘governance’.
To do this well, there’s three outcomes you should be trying to achieve:
- Gain support for your projects so that you have adequate resources allocated to be successful.
- Stop nervous senior managers prying, micro managing and overlaying unnecessary process in the name of ‘Governance’.
- Put some goodwill in the bank so that if and when something goes wrong, you’ll have the necessary support to rectify it and avoid adverse knee jerk reactions.
All of this when boiled down, is about your managers gaining confidence in you personally and your team generally. They want the comfort that you and your team are competent and that you will bring issues to them in a timely manner* and especially, not hide them.
After all when problems do occur, their own bosses will ask “why didn’t you know”, you must avoid putting your managers in this position.
So, how do you do this?
This is not just in relation to your direct manager, you need to develop a relationship with all of the senior execs in your company that either hold the resources you (may) require, are accountable in some way for the outcome of your project or are themselves managing up and may look to leverage either a good or bad outcome from your project for their own means.
There are several ways you can do this, but what you are looking to develop is a relationship of professional trust, almost on a casual basis. If the relationship you develop is strong but based only on professional protocols within your company, then the person is likely to remain within the company guidelines and work within them, not what you always want.
You want to the exec comfortable enough to pick up the phone and have a casual conversation with you, almost on a mentor basis, I call this the “Water Cooler Relationship”.
The Water Cooler Relationship, and this applies to all people in and around your projects, not just senior managers and stakeholders, is about you regularly engaging with people on a casual basis, as if you were having a chat at a Water Cooler, getting to know them personally, their hobbies, their family, their footy team etc, you need to try and remember the one thing that gets them excited and you mention this whenever you have a Water Cooler chat.
This way you’ve broken down the professional barrier and it becomes so much easier to have a ‘chat’ about the project, keep them informed, update them, give them some info they may not normally be privy to (and visa versa).
Manage the Relationship
You need to keep these relationships alive, they don’t last if left un-stoked.
I even went to the extent in one company I worked in where there were many stakeholders, and all in different locations where I kept an excel spreadsheet of all those I needed to continue to develop a relationship with.
I ranked them based on their ability to influence/help my projects and career, then listed a frequency of how often I needed to have a Water Cooler discussion with each, either weekly, fortnightly or monthly. After I’d had these interactions I ticked it off and made any notes for future reference and I followed these timings implicitly.
Through this process, developing then managing the relationships, an understanding will grow on both sides, allowing you to understand the individuals hot buttons so you are better placed to address their needs, not do stuff that aggravates them, types of issues they’re concerned with and conversely, they become more comfortable with you and are more likely to approach you directly if they have a concern and not go to your manager or shoot off a concerned email CC’d to everyone that matters including the CEO.
Build Up Goodwill
Ultimately you’re trying to develop, like I pointed out early in this article, an environment where no one panics and you are supported in getting the project completed and if something does go wrong, quickly and quietly mobilising the resources to fix it.
Some tips on nurturing the relationships to ensure this is the case:
- Have a conversation with the exec(s) before you submit reports, prepping them for both good and bad news, don’t just fire it out via email without context, especially if it’s not a good story.
- If it’s bad news, you should talk about what you’re (already) doing about it and hence diffusing the situation if necessary.
- Use your relationships to approach the appropriate resource holder to gain support to have them allocate resources either if something goes off track or you foresee it going off track, hence going about fixing situations quietly and efficiently. This relationship will also get you better resources rather than going through traditional channels like HR.
- When something is not right, you want the exec(s) to pick up the phone to you and you’ll again have the opportunity to diffuse the situation and explain before it gets out of control.
- In both the previous two instances, you want to avoid someone firing off errant emails copying everyone they can think of and you spending the next week reporting/reviewing/explaining/justifying/defending, the list is endless when you get into this cycle, so you need to avoid it happening.
- It’s not uncommon to waste up to a week going on a witch hunt to explain something that’s already happened, you and your company’s time would be much better spent focussing on the road ahead not behind and this has to be your defence when asked to go on said witch hunt.
- Calmly explain to the irate manager, that you take full responsibility for the stuff up and that you’ll undertake a full investigation into what occurred, but suggest that first you’ll deliver to him a plan to steady the ship and ensure it doesn’t happen again before you try to dredge up the past.
- If you’re lucky and you manage it well, the good work you do planning for future success will mean you don’t need to do the witch hunt report or investigation.
- When a manager does fire off a nastygram, the worse thing you can do is reply via email, go straight to see this person and calm the situation, next stop is your boss to do the same.
Timely manner* – What the hell does this really mean? Very few problems in projects happen suddenly, most are a gradual build ups, and as you develop as a project manager you become better at spotting them early and as a result, stopping them getting worse. With these two points in mind, if the unlikely sudden problem occurs, you should take it to your management immediately for a whole bunch of reason, but primarily they are usually better positioned to deal with it and if it’s a reputational issue for them or the company, they’ll want to know quickly.
If it’s a slow burn problem, like your schedule slipping slightly each month, or a supplier who isn’t delivering, you need to make a call when to raise this up the flagpole. My advice is you monitor internally for a while and try to rectify, if you still think you might be able to fix but the consequences are bad if you don’t, then that’s the time to start talking to your senior manager’s about this likely problem, don’t go into print just yet, just let them know, let them help where they can and make sure that if it becomes a problem, IT’S NOT A SURPRISE! This is where the goodwill you’ve built up will pay off.