We might as well start with the bad news. Things will go wrong on your projects. This might be a shock to anyone who hasn’t worked in the project world before now but anyone who has worked on projects isn’t likely to have fallen off their chair in shock when reading it.
So, how do you cope when everything seems to be going wrong at work? The first step is to stay calm and the following are a few points to help you do this.
Look at Your Plan Again
The project plan can be a very soothing document once you learn how to use it in the way that it is intended to be used. If the project is going badly then you could spend maybe an hour looking at it and working out what changes you need to make in order to get the work back on track. With a bit of luck it just needs a few tweaks here and there to sort it out. I used to work with a project manager who said that he could see the project plan like Keanu Reeves saw the world at the end of the Matrix. He said that instead of dates and lines he could see the work developing and feel as though he was genuinely interacting with the future work. I think he was joking but I kind of understand what he means on some level. It can be easy to lose yourself in the plan and feel as though you are seeing the work develop in front of you. Once you get to this stage in your experience level then it should be easier to do this to calm yourself down when it feels as though the project has been running away from you.
Do What Has Worked Before
I always find that doing what has worked for me in the past gives me a feeling of calmness. In general terms I like to always keep the job interesting by trying out new techniques and tools whenever I can. However, over the years I have come to the conclusion that trying out new things on a project is something which needs to be done when the pressure levels aren’t so high. When the chips are down I like to go back to doing what I have always done in the past. What this means in practical terms is that you should pay attention to the things which work for you. For example, if you save a troubled project by calling everyone together for an urgent workshop and a re-drawing of the plan then this is a tactic which can probably come in useful again in the future. Anything which has worked one for you is likely to work again in the future in similar circumstances. Of course, you will still want to progress and learn new things. The key is in choosing well your moments for doing this.
Stick to the Basics
Following on from the previous point, perhaps an ever clearer way of seeing matters is to look at the project basics which need carried out and stick to them. This means having a solid, up to date plan, knowing what your objectives are and keeping your team and stakeholders all working together and pulling in the right direction. If you can stick to these basics every time you run into problems then you should find that you get the project back on track more easily. If you think about it, every successful project involves certain key elements such as those we just looked at. If you can look after these issues then the work will be a lot easier to handle. Neglect them, though, and it will be a lot more difficult, if not impossible.
If you are going to stay calm then you are going to have to learn to trust your instincts and work methods. Unfortunately, when a project starts going off track one of the first things which many of us do is start to doubt our own ability to sort things out. If you have successfully run projects in the past then it should be easier for you to draw on those experiences and understand that you are capable doing so again. If it is your first project then it will be a good deal more difficult to do this. However, you need to learn to trust yourself if you are going to be an expert project manager and this is as good a time as any to do so.