Project Leadership 101

By | January 8, 2016

Kool Derby

To guarantee the success of a project, whether you are using Agile or Waterfall, it’s essential that everyone involved — from the development team to the customer, and everyone in between — is in the loop at all times. All stakeholders should receive regular updates with accurate information about how the project is progressing. In fact, the leadership team should be transparent about nearly all aspects of the project.

The truth helps

As a product owner, I spend many hours working directly with customers, and many of these visits are face-to-face. This type of interaction is beneficial because I can observe their nonverbal communications. I know if they are happy or upset with our service, and I get a real-time sense of their reactions.

After each meeting, I create a summary and send it to the whole team. I’m straightforward about what occurred during the customer meeting. I want my team to know exactly how the customer feels, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent.

Here are some examples:

  • Customer A: “We’re concerned that the quiz feature doesn’t work with Firefox. It’s important that you take care of this issue.”
  • Customer B: “Wow! The simulator you built is excellent! It’s a great way to visualize the operation from start to finish. Good job!”

Given that I take notes immediately after customer meetings, the comments I provide are exact. When a point needs to be resolved immediately, we schedule a meeting to work on it before it becomes a problem.

Avoid keeping secrets

Historically, only the top brass was aware of the company’s performance. That’s nonsense! Everyone in the organization must understand how his or her work affects the bottom line.

If the company is doing well, share that information. You don’t have to post every financial detail, but you can say something like: “We increased sales by 14 percent in the last quarter, and most of that success is because Project Delta was a hit! You know that Maureen is leading that division, and we’re going to work with her to see how we can apply that knowledge in other departments. Awesome, team!”

Avoid the blame game

Smart leaders know that everyone is accountable. While a person, team, or department may have made a mistake to cause a problem, the buck stops with the leadership team. In many cases, poor communication led to the mishap.

Even when the mistake is attributable to someone else, the issue is still leadership-related. The point here is to think about the customer. Regardless of who is to blame, take action to get the situation resolved. Just as important, immediately follow up with a root cause analysis to prevent future problems.

For example, a team member once erroneously responded to a customer when the email was intended for another a person in our organization. The email started something like this: “Wow! This customer sure is stupid! We’ve explained the situation to him several times, but he doesn’t get it!” From a leadership perspective, I discussed the situation with the customer and apologized for the unprofessional email. To my surprise, the customer found the situation somewhat humorous, and he and I joked about it several weeks later during a business dinner.

However, all kidding aside, this was a serious mistake by the team member. We immediately made changes to prevent this from happening again. Now, no one in our organization, including the leadership team, forwards emails. Instead, everyone is instructed to copy the relevant content into another email and send it to the appropriate party. This change was instituted several years ago, and we haven’t had any mishaps since then.

The point here is that, while the team member was at fault for making an unprofessional comment about a valued customer, the leadership team was committed to identifying the underlying cause that led to the unfortunate situation. Simple processes lead to effective results, and the top management team must drive them. The end result is that the customer is still with us today, and so is the team member. Just as important, our company was able to take a negative situation and convert it into a learning experience that has since led to other process-oriented improvements.

Takeaway

“Drowning them in transparency” means sharing the truth with everyone in the organization. Doing so creates a culture of accountability. People are more interested in the company where they work, and in the work that they do, when they understand how their work effort affects the direction of the greater organization. They feel empowered knowing that their work, their presence, matters in the big picture.

Even when sharing bad news, the leadership team must keep a positive outlook. Doing so teaches team members to look for ways to solve problems. Most issues can be solved with a professional and proactive approach. Remember that keeping the customer in the loop is a key aspect of transparency.

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