by Wendy Tan
Training for project managers often focus on technical competencies and neglect the human dimension of managing projects. Consulting skills complement project managers’ competencies by helping them gain commitment from stakeholders and deal with resistance thereby implementing projects more effectively and efficiently.
In a modern organizational design, the project team or virtual network system has become a popular way to address the increasing need of implementing initiatives or solving problems in a short period of time through pulling multi-functional expertise from different departments together. This also leads to the cross pollination of ideas, increased efficiency and effectiveness of task solving and cross functional learning.
What are the challenges?
However, to reap these benefits, project teams need to deal with a few challenges. One such challenge faced by project managers is that they are often seen as ‘intruders’ by the line units or the internal customers whom they serve. The stakeholders often have their own department priorities. To pull out resources or spend time on these additional projects is often seen as interfering with ‘my real job’ or inconvenient to say the least, even though there is a cognitive understanding of the project’s importance to the overall business.
Given that there is often little internal commitment from these stakeholder units and much is needed from them for the successful implementation, project managers often deal with resistance such as incomplete attendance in meetings, tasks that are not followed through, delayed decision making, frequent change of requirements, last minute requests and passive participation.
What happens if we don’t solve the problem?
Many project managers are often very skilled in the technical side of project management, but perhaps not as much so in the human dimension of project management. Problems are solved using process driven ways which skirt around the issues of commitment and ownership. Project manager use templates and logs for everything, such as decision log, action log, risk log, book of work and documented terms of reference. Potential risks are flagged and escalated to higher management to be resolved.
However, this process driven ways assume that stakeholders will act in coolly rational ways void of mixed motivations and conflicting needs. In addition to frustration and conflicts, these challenges often result in problems such as project overrun, re-scoping of projects, inefficient use of resources and possibly also project failure.
How to solve the problem?
As a project manager in a Flawless Consulting Skills workshop, has found out, “there is power in understanding what the client wants and acknowledging his behaviours.” Whilst project managers typically notice the signs of resistance, e.g., a stakeholder who has been quiet or one who is asking a lot of challenging questions, these are often ignored and the meeting seems to go on as per normal. However, these stakeholders have given us critical information.
Another program manager puts it, “We need to identify resistance early on and seek what clients’ wants and concerns to form the basis of a collaborative meeting.” Part of the skills of a project manager is to recognize these forms of resistance and have effective ways of dealing with them.
Our offering – Flawless Consulting Skills Workshop
In his book “Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used”, Peter Block differentiated the roles of a consultant – pair of hand, expert or collaborative. The key is to shift from order taking or prescribing solutions to collaborating with various parties to find and implement the best solutions that will solve the problem.
In this process, there will be resistance. He described resistance as nature’s way of telling us something important is going on. Instead of ignoring, overcoming or suppressing resistance, it should be surfaced, so that we understand the underlying concerns of stakeholders and can find creative ways that address the project requirements and concerns.
In this way, we build an efficient partnership with them, gain their internal commitment and implement projects more effectively. It also paves the way for an open and trusting relationship and reduces the need for games or excuses.