“Projects are most successful when the leader is identified early, and when the role is fully understood and not forgotten”

Do you have a project or initiative right now that is not really going anwhere?  If you were to ask others in the organization who the project lead is, would they have a name on the tip of their tongue?  If they don’t, or if they give your name, which is even worse, the project is not really alive.  Every project, no matter how large, small, or the type of project, needs a leader.  They either naturally come forward because of a fit, or they are assigned.  A project takes on the characteristics of an organization in that mulitple people will be involved.  Some will be champions and contribute, some could care less, and some will seem like they are doing everything possible to derail the effort (usually not their intent).  There is much psychology in leading a project – understanding how and when to motivate and influence others is crucial, and this is where leadership is necessary.  At the highest level, internal politics and a high level of business acumen are necessary as well.

Project leaders must understand and never forget their role.  Others depend on the project leader to keep things on track, on budget, manage scope, eliminate indecision, and to put their ego aside when necessary (no more egos are needed in a room full of people).  Project leaders understand that there will be many different  personal agendas and personalities involved in the project, and depending on the project there can even be some turmoil between team members (more often when working on external projects).  We cannot always control who we work with or what their mission is, but we can undersand it from a psychological standpoint and act accordingly.  It is when we choose not to understand it that we forget our role.   The easiest thing to do is say “If they are going to be like that, forget about it” or “I don’t really like how they conduct themselves, so I am just going to win over this one side of the team and forget about them”.  Guess what happens?  The project fails.  The mission of a project leader is to finish the project successfully and to lead in a way that even the toughest hurdles and/or people are more than satisfied by the outcome.

And when it comes to higher level projects, we have to take some time to understand the landscape and internal politics before we kick-off the project.  Not only must a project leader know their role, but they must know the roles of the individuals involved, especially when we are working on a project for a client and a project leader is assigned on that side as well.  In these situations it is our job to make them shine,  even more so than ourselves.

“Leaders still see the need for report cards, to the point where they are self-inflicted”

Leading starts with knowing where we are, therefore we must consistently define and track the  most important metrics.  All organizations, even the largest, can be broken down into a small quantity of core metrics.  For example, our organization’s key metrics can be broken down into the following.  Customer Retention Rate, New Contracts Received, Project Management Pipeline, Service Bureau Production, and Profitability.   Are these all the metrics we track?  Of course not, we actually track more than 60 performance metrics, however, the majority of them all are indicators or support metrics for what is happening to the core metrics.  They allow us to figure out why this or that is happening. 

Regardless of the organization, department, or even the particular role we are responsible for as leaders, our success can easily be measured through applicable core metrics.   More importantly, they can keep us sane because stress comes more from “not knowing”.  If things are good or bad we want to know, however if we are not tracking the indicators how do we know when or how to react?  Consistent results and growth come from consistent tracking and team focus on the results.  There are signicant negative effects to not defining and monitoring the core metrics.  People become delusional and begin to just hope things are going well or that nothing bad will happen.  In addition, the same mistakes are consistenly made, which prohibit progress and cause frustration for customers and team members.

If employed, we are responsible for a certain level of performance.  Therefore, understanding and monitoring core metrics should be done regardless of being a “numbers person” or not.  Globally, no one person can effectively handle the job of tracking and worrying about every single aspect of an organization.  We have to rely on each other, and from a leadership perspective, all performance is a roll up of the team’s effort.   For example, a sales manager needs to focus on the company’s total sales number, but each sales team member must focus on their own metrics in order to contribute.  When the total sales number is not being met, the sales manager is likely going to put some extra time and attention into working with certain team members that need to improve.

What to track is known if the organization and it’s team members have a clear understanding of the goals and factors that will lead to success.  In turn, the probability of success and of lower stress, will be much higher.  Even if the metrics are trending in a negative direction, at least we know and can now do something about it.  There is a reason we had report cards in school.   They tracked the key metrics that really told us and our parents if we were paying attention, working hard, and doing our studying.   Well guess what?  We still need them if we want to be on the deans list, and to realize if we succeeded or failed.

“With growth comes a higher volume of events, both good and bad. While the good ones always deserve praise, we should remember not to hold our best team members accountable for every bad event.”

A few years ago our team visited Texas to interview some potential partners for a line of business we were trying to increase.  Our first meeting was with a business in the Dallas area.  The facilities were large, clean, had a high-volume of inventory, and every worker seemed to be hustling to get their work done.   We were impressed until we met their leadership.   We were greeted by two very nice gentlemen who were part of the company’s sales team.  They gave us the tour and then led us to a conference room.   Shortly after, the President of the company joined us.  About midway into our conversation he asked us if we had any other meetings while we were in Texas.   I said, “Yes we do, we have a very large RFP that we responded to and we are a finalist.”  He asked who it was and when he found out it was a very large government agency in the Dallas area, he turned to the two sales guys that had been so nice to us.  He asked them why they did not know about the opportunity (both of our companies sold the same type of software), and he was visbly frustrated.   We were turned off by the event and did not end up partnering with them.  That was 4-5 years ago when they had over 400 employees.  Today they are no longer in business.  What was most ironic was that the sales guys (who we could tell were high producers) were directed by him to focus on the Healthcare sector and the company was busting at the seams with that type of work.  So what he did was embarrass his highest performers in front of total strangers, for reasons neither they, nor we could understand.

Getting mad at the hardest working people on the team when bad things happen, creates a double negative.  These are the people that both we and they know are the best.  They are known as the best through their actions and their heart.  They are fully engaged and don’t view their role as just a job.  They care, they make things happen, they motivate others, they work long hours, and in short, they are our leaders and potential leaders.   The right approach is to first understand if the particular event should upset us.   If the answer is yes, we should then figure out what went wrong and address it so that it can be avoided in the future.   If we have the right people, the occurrence of a bad event upsets them just as much as it does us, and it should be a team approach in correcting the issue.