Tell IT Project Stakeholders what they need to hear… Not what they want to hear

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David Cotgreavehttp://www.stoneseed.co.uk
If you like David's blogs - he is now a published author - Straight Talk on Project Management (VOLUME III)- Free eBook. Why not download your copy today. http://www.stoneseed.co.uk/ebook David Cotgreave MBA, BSc (hons), PRINCE II, is Professional Services Director at Stoneseed, with over 20 years’ experience in IT Consulting. David has worked with organisations such as BT Engage IT and KPMG, before founding Stoneseed in 2009 and has gained considerable business experience whilst working with a wide range of organisations across the UK and Europe carrying out a range of strategy, review and implementation projects. David is currently responsible for leading the Programme and Project Management services offered by Stoneseed. Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) from Stoneseed offers clients access to Project Management staff, resources and tools at a flexible and predictable cost via a fully Structured Managed Service. www.stoneseed.co.uk

IT Project Manager
IT Project Manager

Three IT Projects have recently been almost scuppered by the same thing. A crippling, debilitating disease that lies dormant for months before inevitably and painfully killing the IT Project it has infected … ‘Yesitis’.

Sufferers of ‘Yesitis’ are unable to say ‘no’, perhaps because of a poor corporate culture, or fear, or maybe just a lack of confidence they tell people what they think they want to hear and not what they need to hear.

For example, one of the three Projects I recently consulted on had suffered that other well-known IT Project illness – scope creep. It would be tempting to put cause of near death down to this but actually, scope is an inanimate concept – it is only brought to life by the creativity of project teams and their leaders. In other words, each time a stakeholder came with a request to creep someone had the option to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In this case, through fear of negative career consequences the project leader said ‘yes’ and the project’s delivery lead time and budget suffered as a result.

Here are 5 Reasons Why IT Project Leaders Must Tell Stakeholders What They Need To Hear … Not What They Want To Hear.

1 – IT Is The Business

We are living through the IT Industrial Revolution, every business on the planet has become or is on a journey to become, at their core, an IT-led business.

I was recently fascinated by how data-driven farming is now. You may have thought farmers would be the last to get on board but, chatting to one the other week, he had technology everywhere. From data gathering combine harvesters to tech in his barn measuring moisture in harvested crops, his digital weighbridge and better weather forecasting IT than probably the Met Office itself – IT was present at every part of the process.

The point is, he admitted that digitally speaking, he was reliant on advice from experts. For instance, he was talked out of buying a combine harvester last year and instead hires one in with greater data capture capability. Now, he really wanted to own a combine, had done since being a child but was told by his IT advisor (his son!) that this would be a vanity purchase. There was a better way!

As IT Project leaders we need to have the guts shown by that son. Often we are pioneering and although stakeholders may have more experience and knowledge of their core business, be it farming, transport, leisure, broadcasting or whatever, we have greater experience and knowledge of how IT can be leveraged to support business strategies. And on that …

2 – What Are They Paying You For?

The hard fact of the matter is that you are being paid to deliver.

In this transaction, where money gets put in your bank account each month what do you think the service is that you are selling? It’s YOU. Your experience and your professional opinion. That’s what makes you valuable.

The path of least resistance is, at first, a tempting one to take, but at some point, it becomes difficult to navigate. All those times you agreed to something against your better judgement, nodded but kept quiet, or just did what was ‘expected of you’, they all come back to haunt.

When you put forward your opinion, when you take a position, when you take a risk – you create the potential to deliver change and progress and isn’t what IT Projects should be about?

Whether you and your CIO realise it or not, that’s you’re being paid for. Your ideas, your input, your interpretation, your point of view, that’s what is for sale in that transaction – not for you to be a nodding dog! If you are in a culture where you are expected to nod, – be the catalyst to change that or get out – you are doing your talent a huge injustice.

3 – Now Is The Time To Be Bold

At one of the IT Projects that I mentioned earlier, we drilled down a level further. So … again … there was the scope creep that was caused by the project leader’s reluctance to say ‘no’ … but what caused that? It turned out that it was job insecurity.

That’s just crackers!

My friend Lauren Markham at our IT recruitment partner Access Talent tells me that firms are reporting real difficulties in finding skilled project talent to fill strategic roles.

In a recent blog, Lauren writes about “expanding Project Management teams … handling increasingly complex IT Projects. In each case, IT was playing an ever more strategically important role within the business. Herein lay the problem, they just could not find or attract the extra, increasingly specialist, headcount that they needed.”

It is a candidate driven market. There has never been a better time for you to stick up your hand when something isn’t right.

Think this through, the IT Project leader was scared she would be sacked if she didn’t agree to some frankly undeliverable scope adjustments.

Firstly, who wants a job where you get to deliver ‘undeliverables’ – who would agree to drive the bus with no wheels?!

Secondly, who loses out the most if she did get the sack? The Project leader who will walk into a new role the next day of the firm who may struggle to replace her?

And thirdly, although no-one had said that noncompliance with impossible requests would be met with termination – it was culturally implied – you did what you were told … “my way or the highway” was a phrase used by the CEO. Well, that’s fine when it comes to how you mix the secret recipe, how you dress at work, what time you take your lunch break but you have a responsibility to bring your expertise to work each day and that means telling the CEO or any stakeholder what they need to hear.

If they don’t like it, there is a company nearby who will and will snap you up … just ask my friends at Access Talent!

4 – More Solutions Than EVER!

OK, back in the day, there was a semi-legitimate reason for keeping your head down. It was 1998, a ‘Project Manager’ (not by title back then, but by anyone’s definition a … PM) spotted a spanner in the works of an IT upgrade and decided to blow the whistle. He was thanked, the issue wasn’t terminal but it was a flaw that would lessen the impact of the considerable investment and he was asked, by the Managing Director, “What’s the solution?” Here was the problem. He couldn’t come up with one, not from his experience or from the chat forums he subscribed to. Suddenly the gratitude turned to frustration, there was a definite “what are we paying you for” feeling from the board.

Identifying a problem but not having a fix up your sleeve can get you a reputation.

Fast forward to today and the solution to this would have been at his fingertips. The answer to this and any IT problem, gap in capability, lack of experience or PMO maturity can be found in the Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) market.

The wonderful thing is that identifying a problem and magically having a fix up your sleeve can get you a reputation too.

5 – Your Own Health

Rightly, workplace mental health is now close to the top of most employers’ priority list. Hiding your truth at work can be really bad for you, not fully expressing yourself can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and even depression.

It even goes beyond your state of mind, your “physical” health can also be affected.  Anita E. Kelly, a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame carried out research where a control group was measured against a “sincerity” group with a mandate to “speak honestly, truthfully, and sincerely” and “always mean what you say in situations where your statements are to be taken seriously.”

The “sincerity” group had noticeably fewer health symptoms than the control group, fewer sore throats, headaches, less nausea but they also reported fewer mental health issues like feeling tense.

Telling it “the way it is” is good for your health, my friend.

My approach has always been, to tell the truth. I tell stakeholders what I think they need to hear, sometimes regardless of whether I’ve been asked or not. I think you should too. Don’t be a nodding dog, be their trusted adviser.

Sometimes they might get cross. You may even chase the occasional fee across town to another IT Project Manager but doing the right thing, giving the right advice, telling stakeholders what they need to hear, not what they want to hear will serve you, your IT Projects and your clients well.

Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed

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