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Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts...

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Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts...

Flights of experience in project management youve been working with a company, successfully delivering a number of small projects (short haul destinations).  Theyre happy with your professionalism and capability so decide to keep you to do something larger! (long haul destinations, with potential for connecting flights).

Time passes; as you complete this larger project, with happy stakeholders, issue management and clear communication, youre asked to work on another large project and you happily accept (a new itinerary is planned... with multiple connections).  Midway through this subsequent larger scope, your senior stakeholder is removed and the organisation undergoes radical corporate cultural change.  This is the situation that I found myself in earlier this year (...and the captain announces turbulence).

I found this to be both professionally and emotionally, a challenging situation (time to remove high heels and adopt the brace position).  Ive built up rapport with a wide range of stakeholders and gained positive reputation within the organisation and at senior levels in particular.  This very sudden change precipitated local offices into huge organisational change.  The usual elements appeared almost instantly:

  • Glee those with personal agendas who perceived the change as an answer to heartfelt desire.
  • Terror uncertainty equates to job insecurity
  • Enthusiasm change means opportunity to grow, manoeuvre politically and enhance reputation
  • Sadness loss of a valued, esteemed senior manager who had been a dynamic presence and influence

As a project manager I had to manage my own feelings, behaviours and reactions (personal responsibility for communicating the risks to the passengers including lighted walkways in case of emergency).  Initially needing to contain rumour and discourage gossip; swiftly seeking out some time with new sponsors to establish the position of my two main projects; manage interpersonal communications across my wide stakeholder group.

I chose to seek clarification on whether my projects should move into other patterns holding, cancelling, curtailing, delaying or continuing the projects.  Underneath it all, being a contractor as senior project manager, I also had to consider my personal position with regard to work commitment, employment circumstances and likely impact to my financial position as well as personal reactions.

It took immense discipline to contain my own reactions (apply your own oxygen mask before assisting others), manage expectations of others and ensure that I communicated project content and concerns as accurately and reasonably dispassionately; the latter was a particular stretch for me personally.

The greatest task thus far is to be supportive through expectation management, leading by example and choosing to continue professionally and appropriately (follow instructions appropriately, breathe normally).  This was more readily sustained due to existing good communications and mutual respect already gained.

As the organisation continues to discover its new culture and processes, the need for resilience both internally and externally is ever apparent.  My ability to absorb unexpected change, to manage my teams and reset their expectations has required tremendous energy and significant patience.  Proactive relationship management throughout my tenure has undoubtedly been my greatest asset in this turbulence and Im really glad to have securely fastened my seatbelt through professional and ethical conduct, which is now facilitating a modicum of security as we proceed to a new stable environment.


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  1. Sheilina Somani
    Sheilina Somani 24 May 2012, 11:55 AM

    I'm always appreciative of quotes that help encapsulate experiences, thoughts and ideas ... here's another of my particular favourites ...Turbulence is life force. It is opportunity. Let's love turbulence and use it for change. Ramsey Clark As a project manager, and previously far too frequent flyer, I have learned to enjoy turbulence, even though it brings sweats, anxieties,  spills and of course THRILLS! ... what a perfect analogy for being a project manager!

  2. Gordon MacKellar
    Gordon MacKellar 21 May 2012, 05:58 PM

    As someone who is a keen sailor and PM, I love that quote.

  3. Sheilina Somani
    Sheilina Somani 21 May 2012, 12:09 PM

    Good morning Adrian,Thank you for your super comments... and yes, it's key that we recognise people aspects as coming to the fore, joining established colleagues - processes, templates, tools and techniques.As we continue to encounter excess baggage and flight delays (grin) the people focus has definitely helped me to retain stakeholder engagement.One of my favourite current quotes ...The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.~William Arthur Ward 

  4. Adrian Pyne
    Adrian Pyne 21 May 2012, 11:26 AM

    A quite beautiful example of the fact that, in the end, it is people who enable projects (and programmes and even portfolios) to succeed........or not.I suspect that if despite the changes going on, if the project was managed focussing on PM process and tools and PM tunnel vision - I don't care what is going on around me I damn well have this project to deliver - it well..........wouldn't have.It is not that the People aspects of PM are more important than Process or Tools, I am just pleased to see People emerging more into the light. There is more on People in the next Body of Knowledge about to launch than in previous versions. And I am sure there is much more to be added as it evolves.Great stuff Sheilina