A project manager’s biggest challenge is coping with unexpected events. Despite meticulous planning, managers still have to deal with employees failing to meet deadlines, technology malfunctions, changes in leadership’s instructions, and so on. The key to handling these situations is flexibility. Ed Hoffman, Senior Lecturer for the Master of Science in Information and Knowledge Strategy program at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, suggests five steps to successfully manage a project:
1. Develop Trust Among Project Members
It’s crucial to select the right people and develop mutual interdependence and trust. Because project progress depends on the contribution of individuals from different disciplines, collaboration is crucial for the early detection of problems as well as the quick development and implementation of solutions.
2. Create Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
Project managers faced with unexpected events employ a “rolling wave” approach to planning, meaning they develop plans in waves as the project unfolds and information becomes more reliable. With their teams, they develop detailed short-term plans with firm commitments while also preparing tentative long-term plans with fewer details to ensure milestones are met.
3. Periodically Review the Team’s Progress
Scheduling review sessions allows the project manager to give their team the best input for identifying problems and the best advice for solving them. One session can focus on presentations of past progress or future ideas, and another can be devoted to in-depth discussions of possible solutions for any problems. This will create a working climate based on trust and respect, in which all team members can safely share their doubts and concerns.
4. Prevent Major Disruptions
Successful project managers never stop expecting surprises, even if they may affect changes only a few times during a project. They’re constantly anticipating disruptions and maintaining the flexibility to respond proactively. If changes do occur, a project manager should act as early as possible, since it is easier to tackle a threat before it reaches a full blown state.
5. Assess Situations Face-to-Face
Most managers employ three practices: hands-on engagement, face-to-face communication, and frequent moving about. Hands-on engagement involves activities like making phone calls or taking trips to stores to purchase supplies. Face-to-face communication refers to daily or weekly meetings with all team members. Lastly, frequent moving about means taking the time to roam around the project site to assess progress.