One of a PM’s most important roles is to facilitate the timely and efficient execution of every initiative in the organization’s portfolio. That means making sure the team has the resources, support, and information it needs to carry out tasks according to the approved schedule and budget. Questions require answers, problems need to be solved. The PM helps to keep things moving and monitors progress.
But in the midst of everything, PMs sometimes inadvertently become a project bottleneck when it comes to successfully driving their projects from planning to completion. The roots of the problem are varied. In many cases it’s simply a matter of too much work and too little time, leaving the PM unable to effectively process the information flowing through the project team. Or it may be a result of a working style that relies too much on micromanagement and not enough on delegation.
No matter the reason for the bottleneck, the negative impacts on the project team today—as well as longer-term performance problems that often follow—are clear. If your organization’s success rate isn’t as high as it could be, or if your team has trouble completing baseline tasks, consider where you might be contributing to the problem. We’ve also outlined some steps that can help return things to a more productive path.
Project managers need to be diligent about reviewing the team’s routine status updates and progress reports. When you have a lot of tasks on the docket, weekly reports may seem like a low priority but ignoring them is a big mistake. You’re likely to waste team members’ time asking them for information they’ve already submitted. Even more worrisome is the potential that you’ll overlook a problem looming on the horizon, leaving your team to monitor issues and bring them to you individually once they’ve reached crisis status. It’s less efficient, not to mention often less effective, to try to fix issues at the last minute.
It’s also vital that PMs pay close attention to and quickly act on requests that come through from stakeholders, whether they’re team members, sponsors, outside providers, or internal collaborators. At any point in the project you might receive requests for funding or personnel, or even for help gaining the cooperation of another department that’s supposed to provide support but isn’t. If these requests fall into an abyss, you’re going to create problems for your team and make it very difficult to deliver your project on time and on budget. Some groups use standardized e-mail subject lines that indicate the message contains a time-sensitive request, others route requests through a coordinator or administrator who forwards them to the PM but tracks their progress to be sure action is taken in a timely manner.
While it can be difficult when things are busy, PMs should make themselves accessible as much as possible. You never know when an issue will come up that needs your attention. Attend standing team meetings. If you’ve set hours when you’ll be in the office (particularly helpful when part of the team works remotely) be sure you stick to them. Don’t let your e-mail inbox rule your day, but do be mindful about processing new messages frequently enough to maintain pace with the rest of the group. The concern is often that these tasks will make you inefficient, but unless you have a team member who hasn’t yet gotten the hang of composing concise e-mails or your weekly meetings aren’t properly facilitated, you’ll find you’re better able to stay on top of what’s going on without becoming a project bottleneck for the information flowing through your team.