The best-laid plans sometimes don’t work out. In a perfect world, every project you take on at work would be smooth sailing from start to finish. But everything from human error to changes in what’s actually needed can cause last-minute changes that you didn’t plan for.
As a project manager, leadership, project recovery, and task management are three crucial skills you should naturally possess or work toward in order to adapt to changes without the whole project falling apart. Remember: your team is looking to you to take charge when things don’t go according to plan. If you can stay calm and continue to steer the project in the right direction, it’s more likely that you’ll find success.
Projects can fail or change for a variety of reasons, including having no one to lead the way, poor team management, or a resistance to change. When you’re managing a specific project, it’s up to you to combat all of those potential causes of failure. By taking responsibility for what happens within the project, making sure everyone on your team is doing their job effectively and efficiently, and allowing changes to happen while holding onto the reins, you may even end up with a project that has gone through several twists and turns but ends up better than you ever thought it could be.
If you’re not sure how to hone in on your leadership skills and adapt to changes easily, there are things you can do to protect yourself, your team, and the project without letting it go off the rails.
Preventing Project Pitfalls
You can’t control whether someone will request a change. Everything from scheduling to design has the ability to shift while you’re working on a project. If you’re working for a specific client, it only takes a few minutes for them to change their mind and come up with a new idea for a project. You also can’t control when something unexpected takes place. Maybe you lose all of your design data, or the content you’ve been working on becomes irrelevant. When that happens, it can feel as though everyone is instantly knocked out of the “groove” they’ve been in for the project.
Unfortunately, project changes aren’t preventable. You can certainly have contracts in place with your clients about charging them more for late changes. Or you can talk with your boss about why a change would be detrimental at a certain stage. But that still doesn’t stop the occasional hiccup or unexpected circumstance from happening.
What you can do is prevent a breakdown within your team. The best way to do that is to effectively communicate with everyone and be as transparent as possible. Just as it is in relationships, communication in the workplace is crucial for success. In a survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Interact, it was discovered that 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating in general to their employees. But without the right communication, a change in a project can feel overwhelming within your team.
In order to communicate more effectively as a leader, you should:
- Be clear and confident in what you’re saying
- Be open to feedback and listening to your team
- Have frequent one-on-one meetings with your team
- Use simple words
- Use visuals
- Use multiple forms of communication (emails, in-person, etc.)
It’s also important to recognize that you’ll likely be communicating with different generations within your team. Everyone’s communication style is different. But intergenerational communication issues in the workplace can cause a disconnect that your project (and your business) can’t afford. For example, someone from the baby boomer generation might not want to communicate with you via text or an instant messaging app, while a Millennial might not be as comfortable with lengthy emails.
That’s why using different forms of communication and banishing generational stereotypes in your workplace can help everyone to stay on the same page. You can do this by implementing team-building exercises so everyone can get to know each other better, and learn more about individual communication styles. Create a company culture that fits everyone’s communication needs, and even if a project has to change, you can take comfort in knowing you’ll be able to talk to everyone about it clearly and concisely.
Putting Together the Right Team
When you’ve been hit with a project hiccup, take a step back. Breathe. You’re likely going to be the first one to hear about it, so it’s important for you to consider what needs to be done. It’s okay to take some time to regroup and talk with either your client or your own boss about the specific changes that need to be made and how you can implement them. Spark discussions and take notes so you can take as much information as possible back to your team.
The right team is crucial for every project. Whether everything goes smoothly or not, there are a few things you need to consider in order to empower your team members and create a positive and respectful environment no matter your industry:
- Make sure everyone understands their individual role
- Define goals clearly
- Promote open, natural communication
- Recognize efforts
- Give praise when it’s due
- Build trust
- Create a safe environment for failure
It might be tempting to do the brunt of the project on your own, especially if changes need to be made. But when you create a community culture, you can count on your team to stick with you and get the job done. If you try to finish it on your own, you’re more likely to get overwhelmed and stressed, which can lead to mistakes.
So talk to your team about what needs to be done. Be transparent about the changes that need to be made, and what that might mean for your group and everyone involved. That might include offering a flexible paid time off (PTO) policy so no one else gets overworked either. Making sure your team stays happy and motivated throughout the project will help to ensure it’s a success.
A Change for the Better
Hiccups happen. Your perspective as a leader can determine whether they end up breaking a project or making it better. Chances are, if you do have to make changes, you might be on a bit of a time crunch to get things done.
Utilize your leadership skills and time management strategies to delegate jobs appropriately, focus on one task at a time, and to start on the biggest areas of change right away. You might want to procrastinate or let yourself feel defeated over the idea of changing a project your team was working so hard on. But a leader also has to play the role of a motivational speaker from time to time. Just because a project changes doesn’t mean it has to fail.
Consider the fact that, on average, only 2.5% of companies complete their projects 100% successfully. That isn’t to excuse accepting anything less than perfection. Rather, it can help to provide reassurance that problems can arise at any moment, and you might need to make changes when you least expect it. As long as you can adapt from a management position and get your team members to do the same, you can create consistently-strong projects from start to finish, no matter how many bumps in the road you hit along the way.
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer from the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to business management, productivity, education, and technology. If she's not writing, Jori enjoys traveling to new destinations or being curled up in a blanket, reading a good book. You can follow her on Twitter.