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One Way to Take Some Heat Off Your Project

chris kopp pmo project management stakeholder management Mar 15, 2021
Take Some Heat Off Your Project

I remember taking a shuttle from an off-site parking lot close to the Atlanta airport. It was nearly 100 degrees and extremely humid, so I was looking forward to the doors of the bus swooshing open and a nice, cool breeze escaping and welcoming me inside.

The doors did indeed swoosh open. I stood there for a moment waiting for the cool air to envelope me and escort me onto the shuttle.  And I waited…and waited. Nothing.  No breeze, no cool air, no relief from the scorching heat. The only thing that came off the bus was the disgruntled voice of the driver asking if I was going to stand there all day.

I mentioned it was hot outside, right? Well, that was nothing compared to the heat inside the bus. Evidently the air conditioning was broken because it felt like 130 degrees. I put my luggage on the rack, shuffled past a couple of overheated passengers, and braced myself for the 10-minute sauna experience.

The other passengers on the shuttle sympathetically glanced at each other every now and then. One person would wipe their brow, another would loosen their tie, and another would take a sip from a water bottle as if it was going to have to be rationed for the entire week. Clearly, we were all in this together.

Then Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Airport

We picked up one more passenger on the way out of the parking lot. He put his luggage up and observed the anguish of the other passengers before settling into the seat next to me.

Leaning over, he asked, “Excuse me, but has someone already asked the driver if the air conditioning works?”

I thought to myself, “Of course it doesn’t work. Why do you think we are all sitting here in sub-Saharan temperatures?”

What I actually said to him was, “Uh, no, I don’t think anyone has asked him.”

“Excuse me,” he shouted to the driver up front, “does the air conditioning work back here?”

“Sure does,” said the driver.

“Would you mind turning it on?” my quizzical neighbor asked.

“No problem,” said the driver as he cranked the dial up and filled the cabin with Arctic goodness.

What?! We had been sitting back here in the sweltering heat and all we had to do was ask the driver to turn on the A/C? Everyone sighed a collective sigh of relief as they glanced appreciatively at the newest passenger and relished the icy cold air washing over them.

All You Had to Do Was Ask

Now, I’m not sure if the driver was just messing with everyone on the shuttle. Maybe he was conducting a social experiment to see how long everyone would put up with less than ideal conditions before someone said “Enough!” Regardless, I couldn’t help but think what was going through the driver’s mind was, “all you had to do was ask.”

I actually felt kind of silly when the air conditioning came on and everyone started cooling down. All anyone had to do (including me) was ask and this less-than-ideal situation would have ended.

Then it hit me…do you at times find yourself in less-than-ideal situations as a Project Manager? Perhaps the project has been overcome by events that are out of your control. You find the project scheduling lagging behind,  costs running over budget, or you are having trouble achieving the desired scope. The project team may be suffering from the heat of the project and you assume nothing can be done to make things better.

What can be done? Remember, all you have to do is ask.

It’s perfectly reasonable to ask the project sponsor for more time, additional resources, or perhaps a phased approach to implementing the full scope of the project. You may find that what you thought was true is not the case at all. For example, you may feel that the deadline for a project is immutable. You’re pushing the team as hard as you can and they are beginning to crack because of the pressure. Unbeknownst to you is that another project that is dependent on yours has just moved its dates back. This could buy you more time and keep the team from going over the edge. And, all you would have to do is ask in order to get this information.

But, Don’t Ask ALL The Time

A word of caution. It’s your job as a Project Manager to bring projects in on time, on budget, and within scope. That’s the value you bring to your organization and why you get paid. Only ask the question about moving dates, increasing budget, or decreasing scope as the absolute last resort and if you find your project has been overcome by events that are out of your control.

In the meantime, it’s your responsibility to cover project management basics such as getting involved in planning early, involving all stakeholders, being realistic, identifying and mitigating risks, and having escalations strategies in place. By the way, it’s also a possibility that the answer from the project sponsor could be a resounding “no.”  But, you’ll never know that unless you ask the question.

So, the next time you find yourself on a project that has heated up to an unbearable and unsustainable intensity, ask the project sponsor if there are any adjustments that can be made. Your team will appreciate the blast of cool air and you won’t end up feeling silly!