Getting a Project Team Unstuck

Sometimes your project team gets stuck in the mud. It may be early in the project when you’re first trying to build a plan, or it might be later when choices must be made and a decision just circles the drain.  There are so many variables and unknowns, and no one feels confident about committing.

What can you, The Project Manager,  do to get your team unstuck? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Choose your words carefully. Using the word “plan” can throw everyone off.  Some people equate the word “plan” with “commitment.” What you really want to develop is an Assumption-Based Scenario. The team lays out a scenario of timelines and costs, assuming certain events, resources, technology, and so on. The assumptions are documented along with the scenario.  Now you have something to run up the leadership flagpole, to gain support for satisfying the assumptions of the scenario.  The exercise is usually iterative as assumptions are either accepted or rejected, but it gets you past the team deadlock.

2. Meet in a different place. It may seem trivial, but the change in environment will provide different stimuli to thought processes. If you absolutely positively cannot move the team to a different location, then at least ask people to sit in a different seat. I notice quite often that teams who meet regularly tend to establish a routine seating pattern.

3. Form a Think Tank. Generally on larger project teams, there are at least a few people who really “get it” and have great ideas. Sometimes, the dynamics of a larger team meeting inhibits their participation. Invite a couple of them to a “think tank” session to help you sketch out some ideas. Then, either ask them to present these ideas at the next group meeting, or if they’re uncomfortable, you can do it, saying “hey, I was kicking some ideas around with Suresh and Mariann, and I wanted to throw it out there for us to discuss.”

What other ways have you gotten a team “unstuck?”

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