Beating the “Cat in the Hat” project syndrome. How to get Thing 1 and Thing 2 back in their box

30 August 2013
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It is not uncommon for project managers to experience their project’s trajectory to suddenly shift from being on the right track to getting turned on its head.  The manner in which project managers handle negative change sets the good leaders apart from those that crack under pressure.  Most project managers can master the techniques that help plan schedules, load resources and track costs.  Where many fall is in the area of managing change and the ability to effectively communicate and reset expectations to help move a derailed project back on track.  Succeeding in this respect requires real-life experience and natural people skills that need to be honed.

Like the popular Dr. Seuss story, most projects begin with one idea in mind and as project execution progresses unexpected issues will arise leaving the project team and manager with a “Cat in the Hat” scenario.  Innocently enough a small wrinkle in the plan inevitably slips through the cracks and “Thing 1 and Thing 2” are released transforming a minor issue, in many cases, into total project mayhem.  At that point, good project managers need to demonstrate their soft skills by quickly getting Thing 1 and Thing 2 back in their box and are faced with cleaning up the mess thereafter ensuring their project is back on track and  meets its promised objectives.

For those project managers looking to master the soft skills often needed to save a project, here are number of tips that may be useful:

1) Develop conflict resolution skills – More often then not, projects will experience conflicts.  Learning how to manage conflicts can prevent issue from turning a molehill into a mountain.

2) Employ a stakeholder management strategy – Know your stakeholders. Learn what makes each one tick and establish the best approach to communicating with your project stakeholders during stressful situations.

3) Prepare a risk management plan – Rising issues are always linked to anticipated risks.  Planning for these risks will instill a preparedness which will translate into confidence in your leadership and result in improved performance in leading your team in the right direction.

4) Master the art of negotiation – Effective negotiation tactics can transform people’s perceptions of what may seem like an escalating situation to something than can be reasonably managed and accepted by the involved team.

5) Live by Pareto’s 80/20 rule – Focus on what matters and address the big picture (end goal).  Getting lost in the details will only hurt the situation more.

6) Be flexible – Having the ability to adapt quickly and adjust according to a new situation can help put out a project fire before it gets out of hand.

7) Know when to ask for help – Leverage the resources around you before it’s too late.  In many cases your own pride can hurt a bad situation even more and bringing in the right experts and/or people of power can provide immediate results that will ultimately save the project’s fate.

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