I have not done the math but I’m willing to bet that a significant portion of the project manager’s time is taken up in dealing with people issues where different points of view come into play.  I suspect that in most of these instances the PM is having to either referee between people who are trying to make each other look bad or fending against attacks that are attempting to make the poject manager look bad.

Unfortunately this creates an “everyone for him/herself” culture within the organization and effective project managers are transformed into excellent documenters with the ability to cover their behind.  What is also sad about this is that everyone forgets the heath of the project and becomes engrossed in turf wars.  The project manager in this situation becomes someone whose job is solely to make other people look bad.  Between having to report problems to organizational executives and receiving negative feedback on project stakeholders the project manager becomes demoralized and the team is lost in the shuffle.

The idealist in me wants to believe that it is the project manager’s job to make everyone “look good” in front of clients, stakeholders, and executives.  It is easy to point out shortcomings but if the PM’s energy is spent on trying to help everyone achieve their commitments and resolve conflict the organization is likely going to reach a win-win situation.

There are a few tips that have helped me in defusing this type of conflict on projects that I thought of suggesting.  They include:

  • Stop the email war.  Long threads of emails to discuss issues are breading grounds of a CYA culture.  The PM needs to be able to help stakeholders balance the need for effective electronic communication with face-face/phone communication.
  • Understand the up side.  The PM has to develop a familiarity with how the success of the project will impact stakeholders. Doing so helps them remain focused on the carrot rather than the stick.
  • Keep management at bay.  Sometimes managements needs to give the team enough breathing room to figure things out.  In certain situations too much management involvement and focus means that team members are nervous and more likely to worry about mis-steps and bad decision

This challenge has more to do with organizational culture rather than the nuts and bolts of project management. As such, this is one of those areas where leadership skills becomes a lot more important than understanding how to create Gant charts and building/tracking project budgets.