I don’t like to ask for help.  I consider it a sign of weakness.  I’m an IT project manager and consultant…I should be able to figure it out on my own.  If I made a mess, I should be able to clean it up on my own.  When I was preparing to go in for rotator cuff surgery, I knew I would have my left arm in a sling for six weeks before starting rehab.  So, for three weeks before my surgery I practiced doing most of my daily tasks with one arm – even daily chores like making the bed and folding laundry, etc.  My wife thought I was crazy, but she was glad when she didn’t find me pushing my regular tasks back to her already overloaded plate!

Here’s the premise…IT project managers and consultants are leaders and work alone much of the time or as individuals leading teams of professionals. It can be out of pride, out of ego, out of necessity, whatever.  The fact is we’re usually on our own, leading our own way, promoting our own work, and making our own decisions.  Succeeding or failing on our own efforts.  Sometimes we have a team.  Often we’re borrowing team members from our clients and directing their efforts.  But we usually aren’t out there asking for help.  We don’t rely on or want daily interaction with a manager or director.  Likewise, it's not always easy to ask for help or even how to recognize when you should.  Are we really equipped to look for and understand the warning signs that say we need help?

Four warning signs that things may not be going well

The client is becoming more involved/asking more questions

You were cruising along on the engagement and all seemed well.  Suddenly your client has become much more heavily involved in the day-to-day aspects of the project you’re leading.  They’re asking lots of questions, requiring more frequent status updates, and getting involved in the smallest of decisions that you need to make.  They’re not trying to slow you down.  Someone at the top on the client’s side has forced this hand out of some perceived concern with your ability to deliver.

The client has assigned someone to shadow you

If you suddenly find yourself with a client-side project manager who seems to be joined at the hip with you, you’ve probably been tagged as unreliable to some degree and for some reason by your client.  You may have made a decision that they didn’t agree with or you may not be communicating well enough or often enough with them.  For whatever reason, they have become somewhat uncomfortable with you and your consulting and are working to ‘protect’ their interests.  Be concerned because it’s your reputation that’s on the line.  It’s probably best to call a face-to-face with your client-side sponsor and figure out what’s happened to cause them to lose confidence.

You missed two or more deadlines

You’ve missed two or more deadlines recently

If you’ve started to slip on some deadlines with your client, you may be overloaded and not really realizing it. Stop, take some time to re-assess your project, your client’s needs, and your current workload and try to make adjustments before your client makes them for you.  Be sure you’re tracking everything well and sharing your project schedules with available team members and with the client – as appropriate – using a collaborative tool such as Seavus Project Viewer.  The last thing you want is for your client to end the engagement in mid-stream because they’ve lost confidence in your ability to deliver in a timely manner or because they’re just not getting access to information that will ease their minds.

Your invoices are not being paid on time

This one is not always a sign that you’re doing something wrong.  In fact, it could be a sign that your client is having cash flow issues.  This is always a concern for someone like me who often prefers to work with smaller or startup type organizations.  However, it also can be a real concern that your customer is dissatisfied with how things are going and is showing it in a passive-aggressive way by not paying your invoices in a timely manner.  Customers will sometimes do strange things to get your attention.