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Engaging with difficult project managers

One of the hardest aspects of the role of the PMO manager is getting project and programme managers to act and respond to the requests from the PMO.  Requests for updates are issues, followed by gentle reminders, a phone call, a visit to their desk, a more direct e-mail, a more direct telephone conversation, etc.

Depending on the project or programme manager, the necessary information may be provided at any of the above steps.  However, it is all to common that even after all the chasing, the information is not provided.  Very frustrating, a waste of time and usually some upset stakeholders who get an incomplete update!

Possible Reasons

It is important to understand why the information was not provided:

  • The request was not explained clearly and / or not understood
  • The request did not explain why it was required
  • The project manager was genuinely too busy with delivery activity i.e. a go live
  • The request was delegated and then was forgotten
  • The request was not passed to the correct team member
  • Project manager does not want to provide the update
  • Project manager does not recognise the authority of the PMO
  • Project manager does not think the request is important

There are others, however the list covers the main themes.

The Impact

The consequence of the project manager not providing the update in a timely manner includes:

  • Wasted time and effort
  • Missed deadlines / production of important material
  • Unhappy stakeholders / senior management
  • Frustration and conflict between work colleagues

Action Plan

Unfortunately there is no single ‘silver bullet’ for the PMO to deal with difficult project managers.  What is required is a number of strategies and styles to address the situation.

1. Understand the Project Managers

Fortunately people are all different, which is just as well as life would be boring.  Unfortunately that means that an approach that will work with one project manager will not be successful with another.  Therefore, it is important to build an understanding of the project managers the PMO will work with.

  • Collaborative / Confrontational
  • Supportive / Resistant
  • Respectful / Discourteous

2. Engage the Project Managers

This is very important.  You will need to work with the project managers for months maybe years.  Therefore, you must make every effort to build solid and productive working relationships.  This should be both formal and informal.

When a new project manager joins the organisation / moves onto a project within the portfolio, introduce yourself and set-up a ‘meet and greet’ meeting – it works quite well over a coffee and make sure you pay!

Take time to find out about there background, where they have worked, what type of projects they have worked on and their interests.  Obviously don’t ask about personal / family details unless they offer.  It is good to look if there is a genuine connection, especially a common interest.

Provide a brief background about yourself, your experience, interests and what your role is in respect of the PMO.  This is a great opportunity to “credentialise” yourself – something most consultants do!  It provides an understanding why you are qualified to do the role you are doing and, importantly, why you are in the position to make the requests for information.  Warning: make sure you do not come over too much of “I have done this, I have done that, etc”.  You should also try to avoid consciously or sub consciously trying to score 1 up’s.

Close by offering to help them navigate the organisation and the requirements in respect of delivery.  This gives the opportunity to send them material about how the PMO operates and set-up a follow up session.

3. How to make requests

The way you ask for information from the project managers will influence the results.  For example, simply sending a communication:

All,

Please provide your project status report by the close of business Friday.

Regards

PMO Manager

While some of the more compliant project managers may respond, many will not, especially if this is the first request they receive.

With all requests make sure that you follow some basic principles:

  1. Background / Context
  2. Purpose / Objective
  3. Request
  4. Format
  5. Deadline
  6. Thanks

All,

The XYZ Programme Steering Committee is a monthly forum with representatives of the 5 global businesses to oversee and direct the delivery of the strategic projects.

To provide the members with the information to make informed decisions, it is important to provide an accurate and consistent status of all of the strategic projects.

Please can you submit a the standard project status report for your project by the close of business on Friday 30th November.  This will allow for the reports to be reviewed and consolidated for the steering committee on Tuesday 4th December.

If you have any questions or require assistance, do not hesitate to contact your PMO contact.

Many thanks for your cooperation

Regards

Helpful PMO Manager

A clearer and friendly request.

4. The Stubborn Project Manager

There will always be a small minority of project managers who will not respond (you will have identified them in step 1 and 2).  A more direct approach will be needed.  Follow up with a reminder e-mail and then a phone call.

Publish the steering committee pack to the project managers for review ahead of the meeting with gaps for those who have not submitted their report.  Peer pressure is a good persuader.  While good practice (even if all project managers have submitted reports), do not use this approach if the majority of project managers have not responded.

Be open to understand if there is a genuine reason for not responding.  If there is not, remind them the purpose for requesting the information and if no response is received, there will be a gap in the meeting material.

If they still do not respond, escalate to the PMO sponsor.  They may wish to have a discrete conversation with the project manager or the steering committee member responsible for the project.

Word of warning, only escalate when you absolutely need to.  You do not want to appear that you can not do you job.

In summary

Focus on building relationships, building your credentials, making sure there is a clear purpose and offering help.  Don’t request information if it adds no value and has no purpose, this is the number one reason project managers resist requests from PMO’s