This title may be a little confusing because we all have to be ready to react in the business world. If not, we’re passive, I guess. And that certainly won’t serve anyone’s career or business very well. However, if we only practice being reactive to what happens around us, then we’re always going to be one step behind the competition. One step behind the issue or risk. One step behind the real need. It’s like always being surprised by the stop sign down the road and you have to slam on your brakes at the last minute. Sometimes you’ll make it in time, sometimes you won’t and you might end up with a ticket or in an accident. You’re leaving it to luck, at that point.
Practice being proactive
In order to stay on top of the activities on our projects, as project managers, we must be proactive. Plan out the details of our project work for the week. Stay on top of the issues. Stay on top of the risks. Revisit the issues and risks regularly – not just stick them in a draw after we’ve identified them. The whole point in identifying them was to be able to appropriately respond to them if and when they happen. Not just to say, “Well, we were right – it could happen.” No, it’s to say, “We were right and we were prepared.”
I like to compare being proactive in our business lives and on the projects we manage to driving defensively behind the wheel of a car. It’s a hard concept to teach – you kind of either get it or you don’t. When you’re driving you need to do several things: consider the weather, consider the driving conditions, anticipate what other drivers are going to do, know what your plans are, and consider what could go wrong. We need to be doing those same things on the projects we manage.
When customers see our teams working proactively on issues and in preparation for upcoming events rather than reactively, it definitely instills confidence in them that we know our jobs and can perform on the project at a high level of excellence. And that confidence translates into customer satisfaction.
The project manager who sits back and waits for things to happen will not be long in this profession. Luck may get him through a couple of smaller projects. However, eventually this passive attitude and work ethic will catch up to him and he will find himself trying to put out too many fires because he didn’t proactively prepare for the obstacles on the project. He didn’t plan ahead for the difficult aspects of managing the engagement.