People often ask me how to lobby for more of the right people – in order to escape that feeling of being in a constant state of crisis.
Let’s face the facts, we work in a low-margin industry. To make matters worse, contractors cut their bid estimates to the bone in a desperate attempt to win the contract. This results in a bare minimum of resources being applied to “manage” the project. No wonder you feel like you’re in a constant state of crisis!
So how do you get out of this situation?
I recommend the following steps:
- Ask “what people do I need to manage this project properly?”
- Think about the consequences of not having the right people
- Use your risk register to covert the consequences into $$$
- Lobby for the resources you need
- Hold your boss accountable
- Hold your teams accountable
- The last option, update your CV!
1. Ask “what people do I need to manage this project properly?”
For a moment, forget about the people you actually have. Think about what you NEED!
For example, you may need more support in the following areas:
- Commercial – to ensure your contractual rights and obligations are preserved at all times
- Cost controls – to help identify problems early – before it’s too late
- Quality management – to help get things right the first time and minimise rework
Don’t forget to think about yourself too! As a PM, you need time to think, time to solve the root causes of the problems you’re having today, time to look ahead at the problems you’re likely to face in 3 months’ time. You also need time to rest and rejuvenate.
2. Think about the consequences of not having the right people
In a review of a major project, it was found that experienced resources were not allocated sufficiently early to help the team develop a thorough understanding of the scope of works, design drawings and associated specifications.
This resulted in the parties, including subcontractors, incorrectly interpreting the scope, which inevitably led to disputes around variations.
The contractor was denied payment for what they felt to be legitimate variations which they had carried out in good faith. The parties ended up in court, with the client declaring they would “never engage that contractor again”.
Embarrassingly, the contractor actually had significant experience in the work they were undertaking. However, their most experienced people were only allocated to the project after the relationship had broken down and the damage had been done.
Executive management claimed the PM “had not kicked up enough of a fuss” to get the right resources on board earlier.
So, what were the consequences?
- Significant delay and cost overruns
- Cash-flow issues and loss of margin for the contractor
- Relationship breakdown, stress, low morale and high staff turnover
- Increased safety risks, as people rushed to claw back time
- Increased rework, as people stopped caring about quality
- Loss of confidence, resulting in micro-management by the client
- Loss of revenue to be generated by the completed asset
- Reputational damage, to both parties
- Loss of future work from the client
- Time and money spent resolving disputes, including litigation
Imagine if the right people had been involved at the start. I bet these severe consequences could have easily been avoided!
3. Use your risk register to convert the consequences into $$$
Your bosses won’t give you more resources if you can’t justify them in financial terms. This is where your risk register comes in handy. Use it to convert your resourcing risks into $$$.
The risk register gives you a basis for opening up discussions about controls that need to be put in place. For example, it can enable you to justify how an up-front investment may outweigh the financial consequences.
A contractor was time-barred for not “promptly” notifying the Superintendent of client-caused delays to their procurement activities which involved sourcing major pieces of plant from overseas.
In addition, the project schedule was developed in a rush and did not show the true critical path, which lay along the above-mentioned procurement activities. The contract clearly stated that the contractor was only entitled to an extension of time (EOT) for client-caused delays that fell on the critical path.
The end result was that the contractor lost their entitlement to an EOT and was obligated to pay $630,000 in liquidated damages for late delivery.
The truth of this story is that the PM was hopelessly under-resourced and struggled to stay on top of things. Specifically, there were capability gaps in contract administration and scheduling.
Could there have been a justification to provide the PM with more resources, or source a more experienced PM – in order to save $630,000?
4. Lobby for the resources you need
Simply updating your risk register is not going to be enough.
You’ll probably need to lobby your boss or your Project Board. I’m talking face-to-face conversations, presenting your arguments with passion and conviction. It will pay to remind them of lessons learnt from past, similar projects.
If this approach fails, you may need to go above their heads! This is something you’ll need to think about carefully! However, as PM, it is your responsibility to take the necessary steps to prevent putting your project, and your organisation, in harm’s way.
In the previous case study (point 2), executive management claimed the PM “had not kicked up enough of a fuss”. Doing this effectively is going to rely on the relationships you already have in place with executive-level management. When the going gets tough, it would be unreasonable to expect them to stand up for you – especially if they hardly know who you are!
Some tips for building relationships with executive-level management:
- Find out what events they’re attending
- Find out their interests and passions
- Invite them to speak to your team about a topic of interest
- Make an effort to say “hello” whenever you get a chance
- Get to know their executive assistant
- Don’t be shy, you may be surprised that they’re happy to get to know you better – after all, you’re the one responsible for delivering their all-important projects
5. Hold your boss accountable
One of my students told me a story about going to the boss with a request for help. The reply was “just f*****g fix it”. My immediate thought was “so what value is your boss adding here?”
Some of the leadership I’ve observed from senior management is mediocre at best. Your job, as PM, is to minimise the risks to the best of your ability. Their job, as leaders and decision makers, is to provide you with the support and resources to help you do this.
That said, you can’t expect them to lavish resources onto your project for no justifiable reason. You need to give them compelling, commercial arguments and lobby for what you need.
6. Hold your teams accountable
Just like what you expect from your bosses, you should be providing your teams with the support and resources they need to get on with their jobs. This does not involve doing their jobs for them.
Communicate in plain English the roles of your team members, and what you expect from them. Don’t be afraid to challenge them, within the limits of their ability, as this is the best way for them to learn and develop their skills. Be careful not to challenge them to the point that you’re setting them up to fail!
7. The last option, update your CV!
In other words, start looking for another job.
Having this option in the back of your mind can give you the underlying confidence to lobby for the resources you need. But before you jump ship, do your research on the next organisation. You don’t want to find that their culture is the same or worse!
I believe that the first solution is to make more effort to improve the situation you’re currently in. There are always opportunities that arise, especially in larger organisations. However, you don’t want to keep beating your head against a brick wall indefinitely.
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