The PM as 'Survivor'
Become the leader your team needs for 2008
"Well," I thought, "let's get far away. How far can that possibly be?"
I picked up the remote and clicked my way through some programs, until I came to one about this group of people trying to survive on an island for 39 days. All right, good, mind-numbing stuff: a dozen or so city slickers trying to get by and make it to the end. Surely, this will take my mind off of project management stuff for a while.
On this TV show, the people are divided into two "tribes." The object of the game is to be the last person "surviving." You have to do stuff like make fire, boil water, and catch and eat food. But guess what? Some people are much better at these things than others. Plus, each tribe has to compete against the other for necessities like flint and a day at the spa. (Really!) These competitions take strength, skill and mental ability, just like your own tribe at work.
So, it seems obvious that the people who can do these things the best would be the most important members of the tribe — the guys who can lift the most, run the fastest, and use the tools to make fire. Well, I'm going to tell you something, and you're not going to believe it. The talented people are not revered and valued on these tribes. They are feared, seen as threats. They are viewed as contenders to be the one who outlasts the others.
Okay, let's stop here for a moment, and take stock of where we are with our own tribes and teams at work. Are we always looking out for our teams or for ourselves? I'm going to take a wild guess that you want to hang on to your most valued craftsmen. That would be the sane thing to do. So, it's a good thing you're not on that island! You'd be wearing a target right about now.
You see, with these two tribes, nobody trusts anyone else. Some of these guys and gals mope around, don't do much work, tick off some people, and, generally, live in fear of getting a pink slip and being sent home. They try and avoid it by getting by "under the radar" day by day.
What's worse, they gossip, they conspire, and they plot to get rid of anyone who shows too much creativity, leadership, strength or ability. They'll send an athlete packing for home, keeping the low-abilitied weakling, because they believe they can more easily beat the weakling and become the ultimate survivor. Is that crazy, or what? What a way to build a team. Yikes!
Maybe I just painted a bizarre picture. It couldn't possibly happen at your place. You're too smart to keep the slacker and send away your good guy. Your company probably prides itself on how good and strong the team is. You'd never cannibalize your field team. You'd never do anything to hurt it, would you? Maybe you would!
"But Coach, but Coach, we're not stupid; we wouldn't shoot ourselves in the foot like that." Really? Let's think about how smart we actually are sometimes.
How do we typically measure the abilities of our teams? By quality of work? Sure. How about by finishing on time and on budget? An even better measurement.
Well then, what happens when something crops up on the jobsite, something not actually in your contract's scope of work? How do you deal with it? Do you show some leadership and strength, help out your team, try and get paid a little bit extra for the work? Or do you just roll over, play the nice guy, always go along to get along with the client? See if you can just stay under the radar screen? Try not to tick off anybody?
Here's what happens when you don't stick up for what's rightfully yours: Your client loves it. He loves it so much that he sometimes expects that you'll do extra stuff for him, for free, every time he asks. He knows that you'll rarely challenge him. So, he sometimes exploits your weakness and uses it to keep his own project on time and on budget. You become a means to his end.
The awful truth is that, without consistent profitability, no tribe can sustain itself for long. Only as long as the bank account of the tribe's "chief" remains solvent. And, if more is paid out than is received, it can't go on indefinitely.
One of the most important abilities of your tribe is financial strength. Money and cash flow are the lifeblood of any contracting company. What you have unwittingly done, when you ignore opportunity, is to put your company at risk. You may have "gotten along" for a few extra days, but possibly at the expense of company health.
Begin by learning how to effectively deal with possible changes to your scope. Go right away to www.FullContactBlog.com. You can get Coach Gary's course on RFIs and change orders. It's free, except for the effort you need to go get it.
Learning how to use tools such as RFIs and change order requests will make your tribe stronger. Becoming a really good full-contact PM is not necessarily easy, but it can be simple. You just have to pick up the tools.
About the Author
Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at FullContactTeam@gmail.com.
Copyright 2008 Gary Micheloni