As we grow up, our parents teach us to take the “high road” and skirt problems. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says the best way to solve problems is to avoid them. The advice from our parents and Carnegie are well-taken, but this approach might hinder you in your path to becoming a proficient project manager.
Learn to Identify the Problem
Before resolving any problem, you must know what it is. I was speaking with a colleague recently about why his company is experiencing low morale. He told me that employees were concerned about the stability of their jobs, or a steady paycheck. In essence, though, the instability of jobs is a symptom of the problem. After asking probing questions regarding his company, I learned that a couple major contracts were lost because work was outsourced to other countries.
Therefore, the root causes of the problem can be tough economic times or even poor strategic planning. If you target only the symptoms of the problem, you will fail to fix it. In fact, many managers and company leaders take the short-term approach of finding a quick fix or workaround, knowing fully well that it will re-surface in the future. By that time, they hope to be in a different department or organization.
Project Management Means Confronting Problems
Excellent project managers understand the importance of taking action once the problem is identified. For example, when you sense conflict among the team members, you take the time to understand what is causing the conflict. A rift between two team members might exist because each desires to have more control over project objectives. Once the PM understands what is causing the divide, he can implement a strategy to fix it, such as providing a clear definition regarding expectations. The mere fact of addressing the problem can lead to its resolution.
Avoid Taking Sides
Excellent project managers are focused on the objectives of the assignment. You can expect team members to exert pressure on your decision-making, hoping you will see things from their standpoint. You must avoid this pressure, and take a macro perspective to every problem.
Avoid making hasty decisions. This does not mean you should take weeks to decide. Instead, be willing to discuss your problems with colleagues or mentors. You might not get the perfect response, but more information allows you to consider factors that might be overlooked when under pressure.
Dale Carnegie wrote: “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.” As a project manager, you must avoid the temptation to involve personal emotion in matters involving conflict. A professional and proactive approach will help you from acting like a fool.