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Getting your people behind project management

So, you’ve noticed a lack of clarity and consistency in how projects are managed in your business and taken the essential step of implementing a project management system. Congratulations! Project management systems—and the tools used to execute them—are crucial to ensuring every project you take on in your business creates an incredible result. You’re sure to see a huge improvement in project organization and team alignment if you integrate a system that your employees know how to use and actively engage with.

But that’s a big “if.” Many business owners come to EMyth thinking that systems are the solution their business needs. And they’re right, in one respect. But systems can’t operate on their own. They need people to work. And project management is no exception.

In my years as a Project Manager, I’ve designed and led many initiatives, including here at EMyth. Time and again, I face the same hurdle at the initiating phase of the project management system: employee resistance. Why? Because project management has a reputation of being about command and control—and who likes to be told what to do? For many employees, the system—with its list of tasks and people and dates assigned to them—means a loss of autonomy over the work they do. It doesn’t register as the gift that it is, one providing a collaborative and productive space in which everyone can produce the best results with ease. And I do mean everyone; because when you have a great project management system in place that your whole team is trained in using, you as the owner are no longer singularly responsible for making sure every project is completed according to plan.

Like we always say at EMyth: Structure leads to freedom! So many people think it’s the other way around. As a business owner, it’s your job to lead your team by showing them how true this is. That starts with developing incredible systems that prove it.

So once you’ve created a project management system that works for your business, how do you get your team engaged and committed to the process? Let me share in three clear steps.

The Pitch: Get their emotional investment

Like with any big initiative, laying a strong foundation is essential. To do that well with project management, introduce your system to your employees in a way that thoughtfully positions its great features and possible gains for your individual team members and their work within the project framework. For your team, some benefits include:

  • More clarity around the stages of the project and their role(s) along the way—so they don’t ever feel like they’re guessing
  • Total visibility into project progress—so they can see how their work matters to the bigger picture
  • The ability to discuss and adjust scope, budget, timeline and assignments—so they never feel trapped in trying to produce a result that they discover is actually unaffordable or infeasible with available team bandwidth
  • A project-specific digital work space for team document sharing and communication—so they have a dedicated space to collaborate

Ultimately, though, the biggest value you can share is how a unified project management and tracking system helps your team achieve even the biggest project goals with a predictable, highly positive result—one that comes from strong collaboration, support and pride.

Think of your project like you would a symphony. Your goal is to produce a flawless performance. To get there, the conductor (the project manager) must lead the orchestra (project stakeholders and team members) through the stages of practice and performance. Each player has a different instrument and area of expertise. It’s obviously going to work better if everyone knows their parts, but they can’t just know their parts in a vacuum; they need to practice together in the concert hall with clear leadership. Using a project management system with everyone playing their part creates a collective result that far exceeds the sum of those parts.

During your pitch, your task is to help your team see and believe that this system of collaboration is the best way to accomplish the project’s core objective. To do this, you need to provide a project management overview.

  • Every project has five phases: initiate, plan, work, launch and close. Explain what they look like and what happens in them (which means understanding them yourself).
  • Train your employees on the specifics of each phase.
  • Introduce and train your team on whatever project management tool you’ve chosen to use (Asana, Trello, Basecamp, etc.).
  • Roll out and integrate the system, providing ongoing support to help your team own the tools and the process.

Communicating with your team doesn’t stop once this framework is built. Make sure you get team buy-in at every stage. Before you or any of your managers ever assign someone a task, talk to that person about it and make sure they understand and can do the task, and that they agree to your estimated due date and to being accountable for an on-time delivery. Assigning tasks without getting team member agreement is a surefire way to erode confidence in the process.

Facilitate ongoing collaboration

Projects are little worlds that are constantly evolving. When you get started, you have a best guess of what the beginning looks like and where it might go from there. But unexpected issues are sure to arise, like missed due dates, changes in deliverables or employee skill gaps.

Your team members—both project managers as well as individual contributors—will absolutely need to adjust for unforeseen circumstances. So be comfortable with that, and make sure your team is as well. These adjustments require skillful change management, and one way to tackle that is by making sure regular all-team check-ins are part of your project management system. Check-ins are the place to ask:

  • What’s working well, and how can we leverage that going forward?
  • Are tasks being completed on time? Why or why not?
  • Do any team members need additional support to complete their tasks?
  • Have new aspects of the project been revealed that require changes to the project plan?
  • Will we need to adjust the scope, resources or timeline to stay on track?
  • Who and what can we celebrate today?

Collaboration within your meetings brings everyone into the adjustment process. And for the manager, it’s the best way to control risk and prevent a communication breakdown. Without these regular team meetings, you and your managers will start to hear things like, “I didn’t know I needed to do that,” or, “I thought you were going to do that piece.” It’s exactly like someone playing the wrong notes in your concert: Their music isn’t right; their playing isn’t right; they’re not in harmony.

Close the project

Everyone needs closure, especially after they’ve invested so much in a project. The “Close” Phase is the last of the five project management phases—and it can be easily overlooked.

Whoever is managing a project (you or one of your team members), it’s up to them to gather the project team, look at the project together, and show the group where it worked well—and be honest about where it didn’t.

This is called the Project Retrospective. Every project team member and stakeholder should join this meeting to discuss lessons learned—the good and the bad—and what improvements to make for next time. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity for the project lead to thank the team and celebrate their amazing efforts. It’s the final note of the symphony—and you have to make sure your team knows not to drop it.

Good luck in your mission to bring your team into the world of project management! You’ll be glad you did. Building and implementing a new project management system is so worth the time and energy it will take to onboard your people. And if you’re still looking for a project management tool that works for your business, check out our guide “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to the 27 Best Organizational Tools for Business.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts or anything you’ve tried in your business already. Please share in the comments below.

Christy Miller

Written by Christy Miller

Christy is our Director of Operations. For most of her professional life, she's worked as a senior project manager and leader, helping teams work through clear, structured plans to achieve their strategic goals—and feel supported and heard along the way. She's passionate about fostering strong and trusted relationships, which is the key to creating a great place to work.