Most of us enjoy watching a tightrope walker in circuses trying to walk along a rope to reach to the other end without falling down. Skillfully, he uses a balancing pole to make it to the other end while being secured with a safety net. Sometimes this walker takes your breath away when he slips off the rope and falls in the safety net, yet, you know that he is not hurt. When it comes to real life and you look around you will see a real tightrope walker in your organization whose slip may cause a disaster not only to him but also to the entire organization. Guess who! He is the Project Manager (PM).
All what a PM does is trying to reach from one end of a project (Initiating), to the other end (Closing) safely by keeping all of the project’s competing demands balanced. What is funny about this, and at the same time challenging, is that most of project stakeholders (SH) know what competing demands are, and they are even skilled at stretching them. All of them know that a PM has to deliver within scope, time, budget, quality, and available resources. However, none of these SH knows what ‘Balancing Pole’ is to use to keep these demands balanced. Even if they know it, they don’t know how to use it. Here comes the role of our Tightrope Walker; the PM.
I will touch on three key management areas a PM uses as Balancing Pole to maintain the balance in his project’s competing demands which are Integration, Communication, and Conflict management areas.
A PM needs to keep his project balanced by keeping it integrated both on technical side and human side. For example, maintaining an effective Change Management procedure enables the project manager to incorporate any requested changes into all project baselines; i.e. if an implemented change affects scope, it has to be reflected to cost and time as applicable. The feedback loop of continuous update to project management plan as he executes the project is another way of integration that maintains a balanced project throughout lifecycle.
Regarding human integration I emphasize the skill of integrating the project team members together to work as one cohesive unit towards one objective. Just like football team players whose coach harmonizes their performance to score goals. For example, building the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is an activity that helps the PM integrate his team members as it involves collaborative effort from all of them.
It is said that 80% of projects failure is due to poor communications. A successful PM is the one who continuously maintains links with all stakeholders to satisfy their information needs and to best manage their expectations about the project. Whether it is through effective meetings, presentations, emailing, or conference calling the PM is kept updated with any requested changes that SH need at the right time. Besides, by building an open communications environment a positive constructive atmosphere amongst team members is created where ideas are shared and team work is fostered. All that gives a heavy mass to PM to keep him balanced in the project journey.
Conflict management is directly related to communications skills. A proficient communicator is most probably an effective conflict-solver. It is worth mentioning that mastering the strategies of conflict resolution is a key to maintain harmonized performance in project team. Unhealthy conflicts are disruptive and detrimental to the project. On the other hand, a PM should realize that conflict is sometimes healthy and needed in projects; a project with no conflicts is actually an ‘unbalanced project’.
At the end of the day it is the PM’s challenge to keep the project balanced. The more skillfully a PM performs ‘tightrope walking’, the more he ‘entertains’ his stakeholders and the more likely he makes it to the other end of the rope without falling.