PM: Addressing Conflicting Priorities

One of the most common people-oriented challenges a Project Manager faces is handling the inevitable situation when a team member is unable or unwilling to complete a crucial (critical path) task in the timeframe they estimated and/or agreed to.

As the PM, we shouldn’t be (too) surprised when (not if) this happens. The reason: we’ve been checking in with our team members on crucial tasks and should know well in advance if they are on track or not.

Once it is realized that the achievement of a crucial task is at risk the PM must act promptly. And, what might they do?

First, speak to the team member and determine precisely why they feel the task can’t be completed on time. Is it because:

  • They are waiting on something from someone else? If so, we’ll help them chase it down.
  • Their task is larger than anticipated and/or the workload from other activities (projects or their day job) is preventing them from focusing on their tasking? If so, suggest that we both meet with their manager to sort this out and get them some relief.
  • They are incapable, uninterested or unwilling to perform their task? If reiterating the nature and importance of the project and their role doesn’t spur them to action, suggest we both meet with their manager to sort this out…

I have found that more often than not the suggestion of meeting with the team member’s manager captures their attention and they will figure it out. If not, the “suggestion,” to meet with the team member’s manager, needs to become an “insistence.”

When meeting with the team member’s manager realize:

  • This is done in the spirit of assisting them on the completion of an important assignment – for the company (not the PM). We are NOT “telling on them.” We are attempting to help them. As such, the approach should reflect this.
  • An over-worked or uninterested team member is NOT the PM’s problem to resolve: the manager of the team member needs to address this. After-all, it wasn’t the PM who ordained the project or assigned this specific team member to the project.

If the above steps don’t resolve the issue, keep going up the food chain: professionally and courteously – yet tenaciously.

If the issue remains after the above, and/or it spans multiple team-members, then it is time to escalate to the project’s steering committee. That is, it would seem an organizational level decision is required, from senior management, to determine if this project should proceed as spec’d, or if a change in timeframe, scope or resourcing is required.

Bottom-line: While it is the PMs job to ensure success of the project, it is upper management’s job to define organization-level priorities and provide the resourcing necessary to complete important objectives (such as our project). Too often PM’s lose sleep on these issues thinking it is their job to relentlessly hammer on a team member to get them to complete their task(s) – when they are unable or unwilling to do so. Put that monkey on the back of its owner – management.

In closing, if you are looking to improve PM competencies in yourself or within your organization, feel free to reach out to learn how I can help or to book time on my calendar!

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