From the Director’s Desk: Managing up and down

A topic we discuss in my project management class quite a bit is the role of the project manager. Project management can be a difficult role because you have two basic constituencies: the core team and the executive sponsor of the project. These two constituencies need both current accurate information and a role in the decision making on the project. Balancing these is potentially a tricky scenario.

As a project manager, you need to earn the faith and trust of both the sponsor and the core team at the same time. You can’t address the needs of one by abandoning the faith and trust of the other. A simple example may be how to deal with a project schedule slip. As a project manager your first instinct may be to run into the sponsor’s office to let him/her know about the slip. Your first duty is to make sure that the slip is real, to separate data from conjecture and to understand if there is a possible workaround or remedy. Lastly the core team needs to agree as to how best to deliver the message to the sponsor. Your core team should also let their management know so they aren’t surprised as well. An entire communication plan may be needed to mitigate unproductive responses.

All of this gets even trickier when there is an external client. These same steps are needed prior to communicating with the client. Your sponsor should never be surprised with new project information from the client. Your sponsor may also be able to help deal with client reaction and escalations.

All in all, recognizing the dual constituencies and the balancing act required by a PM, along with the need to plan out communications in a proper way is a necessary early step in managing a project. Seasoned project managers may do this instinctively. We live in an age of instant communications, where every thought we have during the day is instantly broadcast in all directions. This may be counterproductive in a complex project environment. Think first: what do we really KNOW and what do we plan to do about it, then who needs to know and when?

Mark Werwath

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