Great Project Managers Ask For Feedback, Constantly

As the head of projects for a large organisation, I once met with a consultancy who offered me ‘a different approach to delivery… project management as a service’. It was around the time that everything was being offered as a service (infrastructure, software, even HR) and the term seemed to be popping up everywhere. It’s similar to the way that the words ‘agile’ and ‘innovation’ are used today.

At the time, I was looking for three contract project managers to replace three others, who weren’t up to the job.

I was intrigued to know how they had been describing my profession before today and simply asked them ‘what is project management if not a service?’. After a brief pause and slight smile, they answered ‘well, it’s a process isn’t it, to deliver all your projects on time, to budget and quality’.

At this point I quietly pulled out my cleverly concealed soapbox and proceeded to inform them as to why that statement was not only wrong but undermining the entire profession they said that they were experts in.

What qualities do project managers bring?

However, given that most organisations think the same I wasn’t going to throw their proposal out based on that one comment and instead asked for testimonials on the project managers they were putting forward from project sponsors (not teams). I also wanted to be able to talk to the sponsors about the qualities the project managers had brought to both the project and the organisation.

It’s information that anyone hiring project managers – internally or externally – should insist on. This feedback is the true measure of a project manager, their skill set, communications abilities and leadership style. You also get to find out what they added to the existing culture.

Every organisation that I went to work for used the traditional measures of cost, time and scope for judging project manager ability. Some also had metrics on how closely the same project managers ‘followed the process’, with scores introduced for the documentation that they had filled in. Yet not one had a measure of stakeholder satisfaction.

To put another way, money and time are more important than the satisfaction of the stakeholders who, ironically, are the very people who provide both parameters.

In an article for Inc.com last year, author Tony Wong said ‘‘How do you track client satisfaction? Ask them to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10 every week or so, and analyze and review your findings. If my team builds a website the client loves, but the client wasn’t happy with the process, we failed. You can avoid this situation by seeking constant feedback.’

If the client isn’t happy with the process, you’ve failed. Absolutely right.

In a Project Management Institute paper entitled ‘How do you measure your success as a project manager?’, nearly every respondent cited feedback from the stakeholders as the most important metric, with experienced project manager Wanda Harris stating that she only believes she’s been successful when:

  1. She delivers exactly what was promised
  2. Sponsors and clients request that she be assigned to manage their subsequent projects
  3. Challenging and complex projects are being initiated and she is the project manager selected to manage them.
project management performance

Consistently seeking feedback helps teams to learn, improve and delight stakeholders

Ask for feedback, regularly

So how do you get to be the project manager that gets the challenging and complex projects? Simple, you can take Tony Wong’s approach and constantly seek feedback or if time is limited, get a tool that can do it for you.

The same applies to organisations that are looking to form a true picture of project status. Only through the feedback from the stakeholders can you really know how a project is progressing.

At this stage, you are measuring the service that’s being provided not the process being used to do so. There’s a difference. No-one ever said ‘this is the best project ever and it’s because of PRINCE2’. They talk about behaviours, the way people treat each other and work together, techniques, facilitation, visual displays and the way that new ideas are embraced.

They talk about how open the team – and its leaders – were to hearing about the things that were working and where there might be opportunities for improvement. After all, who doesn’t want to be on a team that is constantly looking for ways to better itself?

Not only is it self-developmental, but it also encourages a culture of honesty. There are tangible benefits too for those who believe this kind of thing to be ‘fluffy’. Increased team engagement leading to a 20% improvement in productivity. You can also completely remove the time-consuming need for annual appraisals (are you really still doing these?) as feedback is regularly received. Finally, you get to keep hold of your best people. Gallup states that ‘Companies who implement regular employee feedback have turnover rates that are 14.9% lower than for employees who receive no feedback.’

That’s a pretty great return for a commitment to asking the team how they think the project is progressing.

Back to my friends with their ‘project management as a service’ proposal. They told me that they were unable to provide me with project sponsor recommendations, but would try to speak to the teams that the project manager led. When I pressed them as to why they couldn’t get sponsor feedback, they answered that it wasn’t the kind of thing that they normally did, but that they could provide stats on time and cost delivery.

They didn’t get the work.

The organisation that did arranged meetings with the sponsors for me and the two project managers we hired did the work of four project managers. The notion of doing more with less is dependent on hiring people who know how to lead and build environments in which others flourish. This is what it means to provide a service and this is the measure of successful project management.

How do you measure it?

 

ProjectNPS is the world’s only tool for capturing the leadership performance of project sponsors and managers. For more information contact admin@projectnps.com

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