Project Management: Who’s Driving the Bus?

Every workplace has its own unique goals to achieve, and a set of tasks necessary to do so. Whether created intentionally or organically, structures are developed for task delineation, scheduling and communication. Ideally, these structures ensure everyone involved has a clear picture of the path to success. But, what happens when behaviors from within the team or from outside stakeholders disrupt the journey? Backseat drivers speak up when they lack information, understanding, or faith in the direction of travel. Here are three tips on how to respond and restore confidence.

Problem: “Are we there yet?” Stakeholders without direct access to information can create interruptions when asking for results that haven’t yet been achieved, or circling back to information from far back in the project. Holding information on a need-to-know basis, or using a to-each-their-own method invites these detours.

Solution: Plan ahead to maintain open communication. Prior to the project’s start, define what information people will want to know and establish a pattern for how it will be shared. This may be through shared documents, emailed updates or pre-scheduled meetings.

Problem: “Can we make a pit stop?” Once the bus is driving along, it can be difficult to stop everything because someone has a new idea of the color it should be painted or type of fuel used to power the engine. Better ideas can come at times when it is hard to act upon them, and equally good ideas can decrease focus.

Solution: Acknowledge feedback and new ideas. Dismissal of creativity out of inconvenience can discourage future creativity.  Just because the answer is ‘no’, doesn’t mean that’s all you say. Acknowledge the validity of ideas and discuss options openly. Turn frustrations into understanding, and save creative ideas for the right time. 

Problem: “I know a better route.” Not all mid-project suggestions come from a burst of creativity. Some arise from a lack of confidence. A team member uncertain in their role, or another teammate’s abilities, may offer alternatives that allow them to feel for comfortable. A team member uncertain in the quality of a project’s end result may try to steer clear of the disaster they believe is coming.

Solution: Uncover the reason for the suggestion.  Ask questions, listen intently, and address the root of the issue rather than reacting to what is presented. Disagreements will occur. Avoid approaching these conversations with a goal of shutting down the other person or idea. Instead, approach with a goal to understand the thought process behind the suggestion.