The word came down from corporate, your project is approved. The word is out, the rumors are flying. However, you have nothing official. Your boss hasn’t called you. What do you do now?
People are saying all kinds of crazy things. You are getting strange questions. You aren’t sure what might be true or not yourself. Do you call a meeting? Do you deny the rumors? Do you demand everyone stop talking? Do you chase down each rumor? What do you do?
If you ever watch celebrities or other people on television when confronted with questions they don’t want to answer or be quoted on; they generally smile and say ‘no comment’ or ‘we will see’ or something evasive and noncommittal. They try not to be combative or emotional. At least the ones that don’t want to wind up in the tabloids with four inch letters blasted next to their photos.
The main thing to keep in mind is to keep your cool. No matter how disturbing the rumors get do not let on that it is getting to you. Don’t waste a lot of your own time or energy trying to chase down the source of rumors or gossip. Don’t let yourself get angry or vindictive over people who may be negative or making disparaging comments. There used to be a commercial on television that said, “never let them see you sweat” and that is true here. If you get upset, take a walk around the building outside or get a peer who you trust and go to lunch and vent. Don’t let on publicly that you are sweating the project in any way. That undermines your authority and trust in your judgment later on. Unfortunately, project managers aren’t allowed to be human. They need to be super human.
The coy noncommittal ‘wait and see’ is the safest response you can give when there are no details to be had. You wait to say anything until you have an official word. It isn’t good to speculate about the outcome because statements get altered as they travel and you WILL get misquoted. Say nothing until you can confirm the project has been approved; and then ONLY confirm what you know and state clearly that there are no other details at this time, so anything else is pure hearsay.
You should make an effort to chase down an official statement yourself. Since the word came from corporate, find someone that can give you that official statement. Maybe someone can fax you some early information. Do what you can to get something official as early as possible that you can use for an official statement. Try to get an email so you are working from a written statement.
Never let yourself get caught making an unauthorized statement. This can lead to mistrust and undermine your authority in leading the project later. People will trust you more if you are willing to say you don’t know rather than speak without knowing. No one likes or trusts a leader that is prone to talking out of their hindquarters.
However, rumors are not necessarily a bad thing. If people are talking it means they are thinking. Even if it’s just rumors and off the cuff, at least they are thinking about your project. It is on their radar and they are thinking about it. They may come up with silly or even negative ideas, but you never know when those ideas will lead to something very innovative that can actually be useful. You may or may not know the idea for the radiator on a Harley Davidson came from a Fedex box. You just never know where innovation may come from. So no matter how ridiculous it may sound, don’t always try to squelch conversations. Keep a sense of humor and encourage the staff to let you know when their ideas fit into the project plan and what problem they will resolve. Tell them you are confident they are on the road to something innovative and useful and you can’t wait to see the outcome.
If the talk is particularly out of control or disruptive, then it might be necessary to gather some key people and call a meeting. Get the leads on the project, the team leads, the subproject managers, or if you are the program manager then your project managers. However your project is structured, you need to get the leadership that is under you together. Do not call an ‘all hands meeting’. This is premature and overkill.
Chances are at this stage you don’t even have a project team clearly defined and if there was a team it was for the proposal effort and not the development effort so it won’t be the correct team. Therefore an all hands meeting would do more harm than good. If you call the wrong team together for the start of a new project you are sending the wrong message out. Feelings get hurt, people get confused and your project gets off to a rocky start. Think clearly who the team leads for the development project will be; not who the proposal project team was. You may include the leadership for the proposal, but be sure to include the next steps leadership as well.
Call a brief what’s up meeting with the leadership. Title the meeting “Project X Leadership Meeting Informational Briefing” or something to that effect. In the announcement stress the importance of their attendance or a proxy of equal title in their absence to represent them (a peer manager).
When you conduct the meeting, try to make it brief. Don’t waste their time. You don’t have much information so don’t bore them with rhetoric. State that you only have confirmation that the project has been approved and you have no other information at this time. You are aware of the rumors going around. You cannot confirm or deny any of them at this time. Reassure them that no one should take any action unless it is received in writing, and it should come from you. There are no project efforts in progress at this time. No task assignments have been made.
Let them know of next steps. For example; you will wait until the formal paperwork arrives and you will call another leadership meeting to discuss the formation of the project team. Then you will schedule an all hands meeting which will be the planning session for a kickoff meeting.
Usually people like to open up and vent about what they have been hearing or people have been complaining about. Let them vent. Give them time to let it out. Do not be impatient. A huge part of being a project manager is being there for people. They may ask very specific questions about minute details of the project that you can’t possibly know the answer to yet. Just reassure them that you will have sessions to address those concerns and document those details so that they don’t get missed. Or perhaps you make note of it right then and put it in your follow up items.
It may be a small item to you way off in the horizon but to this person it is in the forefront of their portion of the project. Keep in mind that everyone’s perspective of the project is different. Respect that. Empathize with them and hear them. These people are anxious about what is coming and this time is the calm before the storm. It’s the most time you will likely have to hear them. Reassure them that you hear their concerns. Reaffirm your procedures, such as everything will be documented, that will minimize their fears.
Close the meeting with reiterating the next steps and that no one should take any action without written instructions with your direction or approval. Leave them on a cheerful note, such as ‘we are going to have a good time on this project!”
When you do get the official paperwork for your project, then you do schedule the official leadership meeting. The primary goal of that meeting is to go over the scope of the project again and the budget according to what was approved. Since often what was proposed isn’t always what got approved. So the scope, the timeline, and the budget need to be mapped out at a high level for this team. Then this team needs to determine the project team; and a high level project schedule.
Once the leadership team has determined the project team then it is time to hold the first project team meeting. The leadership presents the high level plan and then the team breaks up into units and begins working on determining the tasks within their sections of the project plan. This becomes a prelude to planning the kickoff meeting.
Project managers handle kickoff meetings in different ways. Sometimes it varies from organization to organization. My preference for a kickoff meeting is for it to be an open presentation of the project to anyone in the company interested in knowing what the new project is about. The kickoff meeting pretty much is a presentation of what the new project is, here is the plan, how long it is supposed to take and what we are trying to do. Anyone with any question or ideas let us know. There was a Q&A session and an email contact. Sometimes people had an idea or wanted to be on the project team because they had something extra to offer. At the conclusion of this big kickoff meeting the project teams will begin their tasks.
Other organizations use the project team meeting as the kickoff meeting. That is fine also. Still others have a meeting after the project tasks are defined and it’s time to start all the tasks as a ‘start your engines’ kickoff to go begin all the tasks.
Of course regular meetings and reporting settle in at this point. Additional meetings to determine risk management and mitigation and other factors will need to be scheduled. The risk management is where those worries and concerns will be documented and tracked for those managers that had early worries about some details. No matter how frivolous it may have seemed, never underestimate a worry of a manager. Your managers are generally experienced. You may not always know how big something can become if it were to materialize. Sometimes the risk that has a 1% chance of happening can have a devastating affect if that 1% comes true. If your luck isn’t the best, you may not want to push your luck. You may want a mitigation plan.
Keep a positive attitude about your project always. Try to never let on you are overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, tired or worried. If something falls behind, do not ask if they will make up the time, ask them when. You may have to help them figure it out but keep the ‘failure is not an option’ attitude about missing the completion date. Do not entertain it, do not fret, worry, berate or complain about possibly missing it. Simply act as if it isn’t even a concept that you would miss the date. Always be positive and upbeat.