Join Bob McGannon for an in-depth discussion in this video Early trouble signals, part of Managing International Projects.
- Being able to drive a car doesn't just require you to learn how to accelerate, brake, and steer. You also need to be able to read the road signs to be able to navigate around potentially dangerous hazards. Managing projects is just like that. As a project manager, you already know how to drive a project. But, you also need to be able to read the early signs of trouble ahead. By learning to spot trouble early, you have a chance to get things back on track. When managing an international project, it can be difficult to spot signs of trouble because you're not physically located with your team.
You won't be present to see team morale starting to wane, or hear the gossip in the hallways when things aren't working. For international projects, some of the early trouble signs are you see increasing staff turnover. The departure of a team member here or there is no cause for alarm. But, when the going gets tough, just about everybody gets going. Ask staff why they are leaving. See if there's a trend emerging, and then ask yourself what can be done to improve the situation.
A second sign of trouble is a decline in meeting attendance. People will stop showing up to meetings if they do not feel they're a good use of their time. Ask the team if meetings are working. They may have some great suggestions for how things can be improved. You need to speak to people about their agenda expectations. What do they think the meeting is about? You can then make adjustments, call different meetings, or tailor the meetings to meet the perceived expectations of the people you want in attendance.
The third sign is a lack of communication between team members. A major sign of trouble is when communications shut down. People withdraw from the team and keep to themselves. Encourage open communication and deal with issues head-on. Review your communication plan. And promptly reestablish any broken communication links. The fourth signal of trouble is a lack of momentum. A team getting bogged down and failing to progress is a sign of a project in trouble.
If roadblocks are stifling your team, jump in and lend a hand. Select some tasks that are the easiest to achieve and get them done. This will likely help the team receive a boost of confidence and a renewed sense of achievement. The fifth sign of trouble is that you're over budget. Expenses often creep up if no one is paying attention. Particularly if the expenses are related to mistakes and rework you cannot see happening. Determine the reason for the additional expenditure.
Is the mistake and rework a result of lack of training? Or is it a lack of understanding of the project context? Maybe it's a lack of understanding of the tasks which are causing the overrun. Or are the resources different from what you had planned? Maybe your team is using more expensive contractors than planned. Once you know the reason for the additional expenditure, you can create ways to solve the problem. Next hint of trouble is when team members consistently seek assistance.
When people are not sure what to do, they look for help. Occasionally, this is actually a good thing. However, a team that is constantly looking outside is one lacking internal direction. Revisit team roles and responsibilities and perform a capabilities assessment. The last sign of trouble is when you see a sudden change in priorities or areas of focus. A sudden change in proposed direction or a complete shift of focus often indicates a team is struggling.
Ask the team to review the project objectives, and use the change control process to make documented and controlled change, but only where necessary. By looking out for early warning signs, you can navigate the road to international project success much more easily.
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- Communicating across borders
- Bridging time zones and language gaps
- Finding and nurturing management "champions"
- Evaluating your communication style
- Keeping international projects on track