GPM First


Keeping cool under project stress

Nita Martin, Managing Director of Pure Indigo, looks at some simple warning signs that you are making your project environment dangerously stressful.

The very nature of projects means that they will inevitably be stressful at one point in time or another. After all, they are not part of day-to-day operations and often have never been attempted before. Almost anyone can call themselves a project manager, however, being a good project manager is quite another thing. It is only truly tested under the harshest of conditions, when things start to go wrong. When, for example, stakeholders change the project objectives, staff don’t willingly commit to project activity in addition to their operational activities or you need to deal with unexpected situations. So, what can project managers do to help them cope with these situations?

Keeping calm and clear is of highest priority under these conditions. More than ever before, you will need to be able to clearly articulate and redefine objectives while the goal posts are moved. Given the tight timescales of most projects, it is often necessary to continually review plans to ensure that all milestones are still achievable and, if not, then quick decisions need to be taken on what tasks can be dropped without damaging the big-picture requirements of the project. Beware of the common signs of losing control and objectiveness.

  • Don’t make project teams work late on a regular basis
  • Don’t behave unprofessionally or lose your temper
  • Don’t penalize individuals for making mistakes
  • Don’t think that making your team miss meals and sleep will result in a higher quality of delivery

Looking at this list, you may think that no project managers behave in this way in modern-day business. Unfortunately, this type of project manager is still rife in industry. It does come down to project managers not knowing know how best to deal with deadlines and stress, which can in turn create a really uncomfortable working life for their project team members.

Simply thinking creatively about problems often leads to the best solutions and these do not have to resort to any of the methods above for implementation. For example, streamlining project activities to ensure that the highest-impact activities are completed well and others are dropped helps to ensure that resources are used appropriately leading up to deadlines. Project managers often hold back too much responsibility for themselves; it is better to sensibly delegate so that all project team members are given responsibilities and accountabilities appropriate to their ability. Not all changes that stakeholders request are possible and so sometimes it is better to work with stakeholders to come up with alternative solutions rather than expecting your project team to achieve the impossible. Project managers often shut down communication lines under times of stress. However, this is the exact time when your team will need your support and stakeholders will need reassurances. So, keep communication lines open at all times. It’s the best way to know what’s going on and it can give early indications of upcoming problems.

Project managers have a tough job to do. But keeping calm and in control is by far the most successful way to manage projects. So why do it any other way?


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