For a project to reach a successful completion, the entire team needs to be on same page. Creating a cohesive environment takes work and prior planning, particularly when the project is complex or when it involves stakeholders from multiple functional areas. While it isn’t unusual to encounter a range of opinions and preferences when so many people are part of the project team, any conflicts about the project’s priorities need to be handled head on and as early as possible.
In many cases, PMs can avoid conflicts around project priorities by implementing some targeted steps during the initial stages of the planning process.
Begin by discussing priorities during early planning meetings. Though many teams don’t tackle prioritization until much further down the road, you can often head off downstream squabbles by bringing the issue to the table at the outset. Conversations should focus on ensuring that everyone understands each stakeholder’s priorities, concerns, and needs. You’ll help to eliminate assumptions that could fuel additional problems later and you’ll also provide a forum for people to ask questions, gain clarity on what’s important, and develop a more complete view of the project’s value to the organization.
Make discussions more productive by partnering with an experienced facilitator. Facilitation skills are commonly called into play after a clash escalates beyond the PM’s ability to manage it, but careful facilitation applied while the project’s priorities are still being determined can result in a team that works better together and experiences less strife later in the effort. Let stakeholders know they’re welcome to voice any and all concerns or questions they may have about prioritization even as you remind them that the discussions aren’t intended to be a free-for-all. The project still needs to move ahead and the team requires a common set of goals and priorities for that to happen successfully.
Leverage the power of the project kick-off meeting. Priority conflicts are not always due to egos, politics, and personal agendas. In fact, most instances can be chalked up to simple misunderstandings and poor communication. Addressing priorities during the project kick-off meeting can be an effective way to clear up any confusion and keep everyone functioning as a cohesive group. Evaluate your kick-off meetings and ask yourself some key questions:
- Do you include all the relevant information, such as a clear list of the project’s priorities and its scope?
- Is anything missing from your presentation that could provide a more complete picture?
- Should you expand your e-mail distribution list to ensure all the right people participate in the planning discussions as well as the kick-off event?
- Do you allow enough time to iron out any issues that people find concerning or confusing?
A kick-off meeting is not only a chance to get everyone excited about the upcoming project, it’s also the perfect opportunity to smooth out any rough spots and start the effort on the right note.
Bring concerns to the senior management team when appropriate. Though the bulk of the garden-variety conflicts that occur during the course of planning and executing a project don’t require executive-level attention, it’s prudent to keep senior staff apprised of issues that have the potential to consume an initiative’s resources, derail its progress, or hinder the team’s ability to deliver good results. If you’re concerned the discussion could devolve into finger pointing or that politics might cloud the issue—not an uncommon risk when influential stakeholders are part of the problem—consider working with an outside project management consultancy experienced in conflict resolution. They’ll bring a neutral perspective to the conversation and help depersonalize the issues.