Are You ‘Project Manager’ Tough?

November 22, 2019 by Lynn Faughey

As I prepare for an upcoming leadership training, I decided to re-read a management book by author Jim Collins titled, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.” Collins discusses how great companies triumph over time and how many good companies fail to make the transition to becoming great. While brushing up for my training, I’m focusing on chapter four, called, “Confront the Brutal Facts”. Here Collins discusses creating an environment where it’s encouraged to talk about reality and confront the “brutal facts”, while – and this is the important part – keeping the faith. I believe that this is a concept that good leaders and good project managers must embrace with their teams.

So what exactly does it all mean? In summary, as a company strives to go from good to great, changes will be made. Productive change can only begin by recognizing the hard, sometimes ugly, facts. Reality isn’t always all glitter and unicorns and managers and companies striving for greatness recognize that uncomfortable conversations, i.e. “brutal facts”, must be acknowledged. According to Collins, every “good to great” company he studied incorporated something called, “The Stockdale Paradox”. And while the name sounds like something out of the TV show The Big Bang Theory, “The Stockdale Paradox” ascertains that, “you must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Relating this to project management, being a good leader means creating an environment where not just the good, but also the “bad” can freely be addressed with team members. No one wants to hear bad news, but the fact is sometimes projects go off track and even the best contingency plans won’t help. Hearing the truth can be harsh, but it certainly beats lying to important members of the project team. When you are honest about the circumstances, the solutions are more obvious and will engage the whole team. This is how you keep the faith even when times are trying. Not just listening to your team, but really understanding what they have to say.

As an example, your team is working on the launch of a new cancer drug and it’s become apparent that the launch date will not be met. The client has changed the scope of the project for the third time. Hours and hours have been spent doing work that now has no bearing. The team sits down and has an honest discussion on the “brutal facts” of the blown deadline and the related consequences. All factors relating to the project’s timeline are scrutinized including each team member’s role. Everyone has a stake and is therefore part of the solution. While it may be difficult not to feel deflated at the prospect of the missed deadline, this is when the “Stockdale Paradox” comes into play. ”

Anyone can manage when things go right. It’s what you do when they go wrong that will set you apart from your peers. There is always an inherent risk in a project and you never know where things can go awry. Managing the risk and acting appropriately is critical in being a success

So, hats off to all of the brave leaders out there who know how to have difficult conversations and communicate the “brutal facts”. It may not be easy, but as the saying goes, “somebody’s got to do it!”

The FlexPro Group is a project management consulting firm, specializing in the Life Sciences industry since 2008. FlexPro combines industry-certified experts with proven project management processes and subject matter expertise to deliver results on-time and on-budget. Our focus areas include Product Development & Commercialization, Supply Chain Optimization, Integration Management, and Early-Stage Acceleration.

Contact FlexPro today to learn more!

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