A project manager is expected to be like a doctor in diagnosing and treating the ills of a project. Like a doctor, the project manager should be the first to know that the project is straying from the ability to deliver on the needed outcomes or seeing that the original outcomes aren’t really going to help the business. At this point, it is up to the project manager to crystallize a conversation with the project team and project leadership to first understand the problem, understand the possible options and routes to solution, and act as the dispassionate observer, facilitating agreement on the correct option and direction.
After the meeting is in place, create the conversation deck or structure that leads the group through the issue to a conclusion. A good structure includes all of the following components:
- Agenda (obviously, but more on this in a moment)
- Description of the background/context, assumptions and associated details
- Dimensions which help distinguish a good solution from a bad solution
- Summary page of available options ranked by the critical dimensions
- Detailed pages specific to each option and as always
- Next steps or equivalent to drive confirmation of the decision and forward movement of the project
Especially useful and most often overlooked, including a description of the dimensions that distinguish a good solution is particularly relevant but often only implicitly understood. Picking the key dimensions and making them explicit often helps people reach the best solution for the organization. Dimensions could include cost, impact to business effort (e.g., additional business data steward time required), software license cost, internal versus external effort required, alignment with overall enterprise architecture patterns, etc. It is an art to pick the two or three such dimensions that really change between solution options, so expect to experiment with this a bit.
All options should then be visually ranked according to each dimension on the summary and detailed to show at a glance which option is best for which dimension. All stakeholders might not think all dimensions are equally important. The business, for example, might think that reducing their effort is more important than short-term cost, and IT might have a limited budget, and so it would be okay if the business stewards expend a bit more effort until the next funding cycle. When the project manager can make the discussion about what is really important to each stakeholder in resolving an issue, everybody wins.
Don’t forget that one of the most important parts driving a group decision is the time you spend previewing draft versions with stakeholders individually. Picking people from both the IT and business areas will help you find new options, refine existing options, and continue to increase effectiveness. These conversations help you verify the dimensions that are important to each stakeholder before walking into the room. Even hallway conversations outlining the major points will help you refine the messaging.
It will be easy to get caught up in the emotion. The project manager should be the facilitator who is interested in driving a group or leadership to the agreed outcome. Having a repeatable framework for driving discussion and consensus helps the doctor always be in.