People are part of every project. So how do you lead a team that doesn’t report to you? Invest in their success. Discover simple tactics you can use to get to know your team and the work they do so you can improve the project experience for everyone.
In this class, you’ll learn how to:
Brett Harned: Hey there. Welcome back to The Art & Science of Leading Projects. This class is all about managing teams, which I think is an important one because you have to find clear ways to get to know and to motivate the people who will execute your project work. Before I jump in, I just want to say that I think this topic is tough, and that's because it's all about managing people that you actually have no responsibility for. In my time as a PM, I managed so many teams who are actually more experienced than me, and certainly they had more expertise in their areas than me. I can think back to a high pressure project I managed where a team of highly skilled developers were responsible for making sure a website we built was performing during a highly visible live event. As a PM, I had no idea what some of their work entailed, but I knew I had to be there to support them, even if I personally felt like it was always of my time.
Brett Harned: So what did I do? I sat by their side. I ran errands when needed, I communicated with partners and clients so they could focus on code, and I ordered dinner. I didn't love feeling like an assistant, but I knew what I was doing was adding value to the team overall because they needed me to protect them from issues and people. And it worked. In fact, remember that story I told you about the time I was told I did a great job? Well, it was on this project. That's right. I felt like I was being rewarded for buying pizza, but it was obviously more than that. Part of being a great PM is knowing how to present yourself in moments like that. You have to make yourself useful to your team and to your stakeholders. Sometimes that means delivering accurate status reports and being a solid communicator. Other times it's about being the person who's willing to do the stuff that no one else wants to do, like making coffee.
Brett Harned: Now, I'm not an advocate for PMs becoming secretaries. In fact, I feel the exact opposite because the minute you start taking on the admin role is the minute that your team starts to devalue project management. But if you take on admin type things when the team needs it, the team will appreciate you. I hope that makes sense. So for the rest of this class, I want to talk through some tactics to help you be a better project leader. One that gains the trust of the team and can lead with confidence. The best part about this class is that it's simple building blocks to place on top of the things you've already learned in The Art & Science of Leading Projects. So let's start building.
Brett Harned: Let's take it from the top here. It's all in the name of the course. What do you think the difference between a leader and a manager might be? I had the pleasure of speaking with Suzanne Madsen, author of the Power of Project Leadership: Seven Keys to Help You Transform From Project Manager to Project Leader. In her book she says, "If you're a good manager, it means that you're good at producing a set of products and services in a predictable way, day after day, on budget and to consistent quality. It is a discipline that requires you to be rational and logical and to make use certain skills and methods." That makes sense. As a PM, you are tactical, you manage tasks.
Brett Harned: Then she goes on, "Leadership, on the other hand, is concerned with setting goals, making improvements to existing ways of working and motivating and leading the team to reaching this new direction. It is characterized by certain behaviors, such as sharing an inspiring vision, producing useful change, leading by example, empowering others and creating the most conducive environment for team success. Leadership is not about the specific skills you possess, but about how you approach an assignment and how you relate to others."
Brett Harned: I really like the way Suzanne strikes the difference between management and leadership, and if you want to hear more, pick up her book or listen to episode 22 of the Time Limit podcast where I dig in on this with her as a topic. What I'm going to focus on in the rest of the class is about how you can use the skills you've already built in this course to make management easy so you can focus on the people and show your true knack for leadership. And like Suzanne said, it's about how you relate to others.
Brett Harned: If you're an introvert like me, the idea of getting to know people feels like it'll drain the life right out of your body. It's no joke. For some people, any social interaction can be a challenge. But if you want to be a great PM and you're in this for the longterm, you have to step out of your comfort zone and do everything you can to relate to your team. Now, I'm not saying you have to work overtime to impress people and make friends. You just need to get to know the people you're working with so you can understand what they do, what they're interested in, what motivates them, and what challenges might stand in their way.
Brett Harned: The best way to get to know someone is to have a one on one conversation with them. So if you're new to a team or working with someone for the first time, find some time to sit down and talk. Try to grab coffee or lunch in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere if you can. If it has to be a scheduled meeting because you're just that busy, try to do it in an informal way. Find a place to sit and be comfortable in the office, or even outside of possible. In your first meeting, sit down and talk about your role and how you serve your projects and your teams. Be clear about what you expect to do on projects and how you interact with team members. And make it known that you're there to help the team get through projects. When you do that, you'll set a clear boundary of your role. And let that person know that you're there to help them when things get tough on projects, you want to convey an air of helpfulness and caring.
Brett Harned: Then ask some questions. Maybe start with some personal stuff just to get you warmed up. What got you interested in your role? How long have you been doing this kind of work? What do you like about it? What types of projects do you love working on? What do you like to do outside of work? That'll get you acclimated and you can dig into further conversation that shows you care about them and their work. I'm surely going to mention it later, but you have to be genuine in these conversations. Please don't go into this with a list of questions, make it a conversation. Be open and vulnerable and you'll get that back from your team mate.
Brett Harned: So here's some questions that you might ask when you're digging further into the work itself: What's been a challenge for you on projects? Do you see anything about the way the project is being run that feels problematic for you? If you do, what is it and why is it problematic? Have you worked with a project manager in the past? What things did that person help you do or how did they annoy you? How do you prefer to be communicated with during the day? Is there anything about our current project that you have a question about that I can help clarify? These types of questions will not only help open up a conversation about how you can work together to make the project experience better, but it adds some accountability for both of you. If done well, you'll leave the conversation feeling confident in how you'll work with that person. And if you end the conversation by leaving your door open to continuous feedback and discussion, you'll both feel like you've got each other's backs. That's what you want as a project leader, trust and confidence in one another.
Brett Harned: You can then build on that last point by showing your investment not only in your projects but in your team as well. And the way you do that is by being willing to learn from your team. Let's face it, you're a project manager, not a designer, developer, engineer or some other subject matter expert. You're great at managing process and tasks, and people of course. Admitting that lack of expertise can be tough for some, but it shouldn't be. You can show your expertise by managing projects really well, and when you don't know something, you can be open about that. I remember when I was a PM working on a highly technical website redesign project. I was in a meeting where we were discussing how we'd have to connect a new content management system to an older database and what APIs existed. I think that might've been a meeting where I was furiously taking notes and adding question marks to areas where I had questions.
Brett Harned: After the meeting, there were about 10 question marks in my notebook because I didn't know that much about the CMS or the database and what was required to hook the database up. There were terms used that I got wrong in my notes and I was nervous about sharing those notes with the team, and definitely nervous about sharing it with stakeholders. So I went to the lead developer and asked for a few minutes of his time. We sat down and I started by saying, "Okay, I'm a little embarrassed, but there were some things that were said in the meeting that I'm just not grasping. I was hoping I could ask you some questions so I can get caught up and better support you." Of course, my teammate had no problem with that. You know why? Because I added in the phrase, "And better support you." Because who doesn't want support? The more you can educate someone to help you in the long run, the better off everyone will be. Any human can see that.
Brett Harned: So that's all to say that you should ask questions. Never be shy to admit about what you don't know and get that information that'll help you in your career as a PM because you'll always be learning, and that's a great thing. The more you can know about what makes your projects and teams tick, the better prepared you'll be to create estimates for future projects, deliver detailed plans, lead and moderate conversations, deliver informed notes and status reports, and more. You have to do everything you can to understand the work people are doing in order to fully own your projects.
Brett Harned: Another good way to understand the work your team is doing, and to create an atmosphere that's welcoming for everyone, is to make opportunities to learn from one another. This can be especially helpful if you're working on multidisciplinary teams or if you're on teams that are assigned to multiple projects with other project managers. Think about doing biweekly or monthly brown bag lunches where one person presents the work they're doing, either on your project or another project that they're working on. Have them present work and answer questions about it. Have them talk about a book, a class, or a video that they really enjoyed, or just do personal presentations about yourselves. Learning doesn't always have to be about a skill. It can be about something not work related and your team will get just as much value out of it.
Brett Harned: I worked for a small company who did monthly show and tell meetings and a team member was assigned to make a presentation, so they had the time to prepare. We saw presentations on everything from design systems to childhood birthday parties. No matter the subject, the team loved it because it was an opportunity to learn something new, whether it was about that person or that person's work. So think about connecting with people in ways that are not just related to the work and you'll find the culture of your team will flourish. And we're going to say it again here, you will not get to that positive culture without being honest, genuine and real. You have to drop any pretense or competition that comes with your work in order to truly get to know and help one another.
Brett Harned: That's actually a nice segue into the next section, which is all about you. Of course, you'll do the work to get to know your projects, your team and your stakeholders, but there's some work you have to do in order to prove that you are actually being genuine and when you can show that, the pressure starts to melt away and you become more confident in your role. So what are the things that you can do? I'll talk through a few tactics here.
Brett Harned: First, you have to be confident in your role as a project leader. That means you'll do everything you can to master the tasks that come with your job. Get accurate with estimates, do your due diligence and create realistic, well thought out plans, write requirements even when the team wants to skip them just because you know they'll come in handy. Be a direct and friendly communicator. Use the skills you're learning in this course to show that you truly own your place on and are in command of the team. After all, you'll set the tone for how you all work together and the more trust you can build in the fact that you've got it together, the more apt the team be to fall in line, and the more proud you'll be to call yourself a project manager.
Brett Harned: I know that managing people can drive you crazy sometimes. After all, you're dealing with several different personality types and you're under pressure to deliver on time and within a budget. Things happen. Projects change, people get demotivated and it's up to you to bring everyone back on task in the face of change or even just issues. The best thing you can do is be patient with people. It's not easy to do in the face of a challenge, but you have to remember that with your help of your team, you can solve any challenge. It might take time and hard work, but you have to stay on task and know that with the right amount of conversation and analysis, you'll arrive at your best possible decision. So remember to slow down, take your time and be patient and the best will come to you and your project.
Brett Harned: Next, be open. And by that I mean be open to change and discussion and failure and everything else that comes your way. Your job's never going to be easy. Trust me, I know it. But if you want to make it feel easier, you can be open and receptive to any challenge that comes your way. Even if it comes down to the fact that you caused the challenge, or you feel like you should have caught it sooner, it happens. Just be open and honest with your team about the issue and to the way it's resolved. Sweeping issues under the rug will never serve you or your team. So get them out in the open and you'll solve them together quickly. Plus, most people remember the recovery of a mistake more so than the mistake itself, so why not just be open and honest about it so that you can recover with grace?
Brett Harned: While we're talking about chaos and change, I want to mention that the best project managers and team leads are flexible. Sure, you want to plan your projects and stick to budgets, but you have to recognize that things rarely go to plan, so build time into your schedule to evaluate how things are going and make adjustments in order to make things run more smoothly. That could be as simple as adjusting your standup meeting schedule to give your team more focus time, or completely changing a process. Whatever it is, you can work things out and make others and yourself happy.
Brett Harned: Okay. Now that I've gotten all of the touchy feely stuff out of the way, I want to talk through a few tactics that will help you to stay on top of even the largest, most complicated teams. The key to keeping your teams aligned is to set up a set of routine communications that keep everyone engaged in the project and accountable to the work. Doing that will help you to manage at the task level without seeming like a micro manager. And that's key because no one likes a PM who just wants to check off a to do list. Remember, this is about connecting with people, not their tasks.
Brett Harned: First, set up a plan with your team that's realistic and is built using their input. If you've not watched class five yet, you should do that as soon as possible. A solid plan is a critical communication that lets the team know what's happening when and how they're involved. At the same time, check out TeamGantt because it can help you to quickly create useful and easy to read plans that will remove a layer of chaos and keep everyone on track.
Brett Harned: Any meeting you host to get input from your team about what's happening on your project should also serve the whole team in getting valuable updates and finding opportunities to help and collaborate with one another. Don't look at these as just another meeting. Look at them as an opportunity to further connect your team and keep you aligned and communicating because that's needed to deliver really healthy projects. There's more information about standup meetings in class six, including a sample standup meeting agenda.
Brett Harned: If you want proof that you're being thoughtful about the way your team's time is being used on projects, you'll create detailed staffing plans that are directly connected to the work you've planned for them. Check out class 11 for more information about how to create staffing plans. And here's another hint, these are super simple to create and keep up when you're using TeamGantt's advanced plan.
Brett Harned: The RACI chart is especially useful in clarifying roles and responsibilities in cross functional or cross departmental projects and processes. RACI is an acronym derived from the four key responsibilities most typically used, responsible, accountable, consulted and informed. Okay, so this is the format for the tool onscreen. This is actually a more visual example, but you could very easily do this in a spreadsheet. Essentially list your team members and maybe even your stakeholders. So along the top is columns, and tasks and milestones on the left as rows. As a group, you can sit down and rank everyone's role in the task level using the RACI setup.
Brett Harned: R stands for responsible. That's those who are doing the work. A is for accountable, and that's the person who signs off on the work. C is for consulted. Those are the people who are experts and consult on work and sometimes contribute to it. And I as for informed. Those are the people who need to know what is happening on the work. I recommend reading up more on this and using it in a way that will help you and your teams. Grab the RACI chart download and get started on clearing confusion on assignments. It'll get you a step closer to accountability and not having to check in on tasks all the time.
Brett Harned: Next, find ways to share feedback and input. The healthiest teams are the ones that place value on the presentation and discussion of their ideas and recognize that great ideas come from the collective team. So if you're due to present a major deliverable, get the whole team in a room in advance of that delivery to talk about it. Take the opportunity to open your work up to feedback or critique and change in order to make it stronger. I've seen these meetings, when done well and approached in a nonjudgmental way, take a good deliverable and make it a great one. And it helps to create a team that's more trusting and collaborative. Sounds like a bonus to me. So plan for those predelivery reviews and take some time to make adjustments and your team and your work will get stronger.
Brett Harned: Also, be sure to encourage collaboration. The deliverable reviews encourage a level of collaboration, but you might want to take that further. I'm a firm believer in the idea that collaboration strengthens overall work product because you're giving the space and time to account for multiple points of view. For instance, if my team's delivering a design to a client, I want to make sure that anyone who might have to work on that design further down the road on the project has an opportunity to contribute to the ideas that go into the design because those ideas will impact the way that they do their work. Or to simplify that, collaboration inspires innovation and accountability. So think about moderating brainstorming sessions, opening up your tool sets to share and critique work in a quick, easy way and setting up further in-person sessions to get ideas out and discuss approaches. There's more information on this in class 12.
Brett Harned: Simply laying out the work they're responsible for week over week will help them to understand the challenges and the deadlines that lie ahead. It's a simple way of helping someone manage their time without being heavy handed. I've said it many times, but change happens. When it does happen, you might need to help your teammates figure out what work to jump on first. This will happen with bigger projects or even teams who are staff to several projects. Remember, there's a lot of pressure when you're tasked to deliver nonstop every day. So the more you can do to help them organize their work, the easier it will be for your teams to deliver on time every time.
Brett Harned: Let's face it, sometimes your estimate was just wrong or a requirement involved into something bigger. It's going to add pressure to your team to deliver on time and within budget. If that pressure is building up, you'll feel it. So do everything you can to alleviate it. Whether you can step in to coach that person to a delivery, explore extending a deadline, or getting them another team member's time to help, you have to think through what will make that person more comfortable and confident in doing the job you need them to do. This comes back to my points about being open and flexible. You can put those skills to work and make your team feel totally supported.
Brett Harned: That leads me to my next point, which comes back to you. You should work to be a servant leader. Now, I know I started this class by saying a leader is someone who basically leads with vision and connects to people, and that's absolutely true. But what it comes down to is that you have to help your team when they need it. What are valuable things you can do with team members to help them succeed?
Brett Harned: Next, provide an open space to talk about things. I've said it, things happen, and those things could truly upset or annoy someone. As a leader, you don't want those things to get bottled up because that might cause an explosion. So offer a time and place to talk through issues. Just make sure you're doing your best to resolve issues and stay positive about your project overall. And of course, don't listen and do nothing about it. Be honest about what you can accomplish and change and be willing to accept what you can't. And explain that to your teammates. After all, the power of a project manager is pretty limited.
Brett Harned: And that leads me to the last section of this class. Like I said, your power over your team is most likely limited if you're a PM. You're responsible for leading your team to a successful project delivery, but not for the people themselves. That in and of itself can definitely make managing a team a challenge. After all, if you're working with a challenging team member and they just won't listen or won't deliver work on time, what can you actually do about it? I've been there and it's definitely tough. Hopefully the tactics I've already presented in this class and others will help you. But I'm going to present some quick tips here that should help you to motivate your team to want to do a great job with you.
Brett Harned: Notice how I said with you and not for you, just then,? This is really important. Please don't treat your team like they're your employees unless they actually are. They're your peers. Sure you have responsibility to make sure they get their work done, but they're not your workers. They're are people who are under pressure to get quality work done with you. Okay, let's jump into those quick tips and I'm calling them quick because these are all things that have been discussed in this course. Think of this as a round up of things that you can use to harness the power of motivation.
Brett Harned: Make sure that every project you manage has a clear set of goals and objectives that are easy to track on your projects. This is going to keep your teammates accountable to the tasks or activities that roll up to those goals. Let's be honest, everyone likes to meet a goal, so having them out in the open only contributes to the desire to succeed as a team.
Brett Harned: Because you're not a manager but you have to do some management with these folks, it might not be a bad idea to have an open dialogue with actual managers in your organization. This could be related to the standards of their team and making sure you're aware of departmental expectations. Or even just about staffing, professional development and overall career goals of your team. Now, those last couple of things get a little too much into actual management of a person's career, and I only mentioned those because it's sometimes nice to know those things so you can try to help guide your teammates in the right direction. Again, you have to know your boundaries here and be open and honest about your intentions with the manager and the teammate. The last thing you want to do is step on someone's toes and make it seem like you're to gain control over someone. Really what you're trying to do is understand how you can best serve your teammates and help them to be their best self.
Brett Harned: Remember that story I told at the beginning of this class? I was there for my team without much to do. But I was there just in case they needed me and they appreciated that. Sometimes just showing that you're dedicated to your team will make them model that behavior. It's like some creepy reverse psychology and it totally works. This goes back to not being that box checker PM. You have to understand the work that goes into your team meeting their deadlines, and understanding that they're likely feeling some level of stress or pressure to not only meet the deadline, but to produce high quality work that the whole team is proud of. Man, that makes my chest hurt just saying it. So imagine how that person feels. Use that feeling when you're approaching folks about doing that work. Be kind and understanding about the work. And again, be open to helping them resolve issues. Being that empathetic PM will not only help you to build great relationships and trust, but will also help you to clearly communicate issues to stakeholders on behalf of your team.
Brett Harned: Okay. You don't need pompoms, and no acrobatics or jazzy dance moves are needed here. But remember that motivation starts with you. If you're motivated to do a great job and your team sees that, they'll likely jump on board. And if they don't, you can motivate them by complimenting their work, asking how they're doing, or generally just being a friend. That kind of stuff really helps when you're feeling down or stressed, so why not at least try? No matter what you do, even when you're feeling negative yourself, you have to keep a positive face on. Don't let your own stress impact your team. Find a colleague who's not on your team who you can vent to when needed.
Brett Harned: Lastly, give them food. When things get rough, try to lighten the mood. Food always helps and so does coffee. I can't tell you how many times I've gone out and picked up a dozen cupcakes or snacks just to put a smile on someone's face. Of course, you still need to practice empathy here because this tactic won't always work. But little acts of kindness in the workplace go a long way in motivating people.
Brett Harned: Okay, that brings us to the end of the class. There's a lot for you to digest here. But one thing I really want you to remember is whether you consider yourself to be a manager or a leader, you are a valued member of your team. If you focus on managing tasks with the people who are doing the work in mind, you're putting them first and they'll take note. Finally, check out the downloads we've created to go along with this class and log into your TeamGantt account to check out all of the great features that will help you to remove chaos from your team's daily lives. Feel free to leave a comment in the discussion or share your tips with the rest of the folks taking The Art & Science of Leading Projects. Thanks, and I'll see you next in class 11.