Ego’s within a project
Many projects fail and I feel that there are factors that influence the outcome of a successful project that fall outside that which is taught in the APM Book of Knowledge (BoK), training course and project management checklists. The ego of the Project Manager is just such a topic.
An ego exists in every project. It is essential that this is identified, recognised and dealt with accordingly eliminating the negative and utilising the positive behaviours that can result where ego is involved in the motivations of your project.
The typical Project Manager — if such a thing exists — has a big ego and this can been seen for miles to see. This is not really the fault of the PM in question. They have been put in place to deliver a project; they hold all of the accountably and this comes with authority. The success and failure of the PM is based on the outcome of the project. Therefore their drivers are all around trying to make him or herself look good. No wonder their ego can clearly be seen throughout a project.
Let’s start by defining what I mean by ego here to make sure that we are all on the same page.
What is an ego?
Whenever I think of the word “EGO” I immediately think of the negative connotations of famous sports or business people; Flash suits, Ferrari’s, rich kids sipping champagne making remarks such as “she shops at Primark?!” on US trash TV. To be clear; I am wrong! Dead wrong in fact!
The Cambridge Dictionary defines the meaning of the word ego to be “your idea or opinion of yourself, especially your feeling of your own importance and ability” whereas the American Dictionary uses a slightly elaborated meaning “the idea or opinion that you have of yourself, especially the level of your ability and intelligence, and your importance as a person”
To use the Simon Sinek approach to considering the meaning of anything I will use the golden circle to define the why, how and what:
Why do we have an ego? Your ego is your drive to be the best you that you can be.
How do we use ego to achieve this? You can use your ego to compare your current self against who you want to be or in comparison to those around you.
What do we do with our ego? The above comparison empowers your ego to become part of your decision making process. If you don’t like the outcome of your comparison this could lead to actions based on jealousy, self-winning, fear, approval seeking. However, if your ego is satisfied in its comparison this can lead to actions based on altruism, self-development, satisfaction, wanting others to achieve the same.
Putting this into a project and specifically project manager scenario ego can mean:
Seeing others as competition and as rivals, finding faults in others ideas, controlling of situations, challenging personality, closed communication to all stakeholders, credit/acceptance seeking, outcome driven at all costs.
Having high (not unrealistic) expectations of yourself and others, strongly communicate and express what you believe, open to the ideas of others, build on the strengths of others, a good leader building cohesiveness into the project and organisation, identification and elimination of conflict early, balanced approach to achieving outcomes whist maintaining relationships.
So now we have a common understanding of what an ego is and dispelling the misnomer that this is all about being an egotistical so and so we can come up with an action plan on how to deal with ego in project management.
Ego-Driven Project Management
In lack of being able to think of any other better analysis tool let’s do a SWOT analysis based on the fact that any project manager is ego driven:
- The PM will be motivated to deliver the project outcome which is good thing as this is why the project has been established in the first place.
- With this motivation it is likely that the PM is at ‘arms-length’ from the detail which leads to freedom/empowerment of project team to deliver.
- The PM is focussed at delivery even ‘at all costs’.
- Due to arms-length the PM less inclined to understand project status and is more inclined to report “all rosy” if communication exists at all.
- A clear delivery focussed mission statement that the whole team has bought into.
- Innovation within the project is set to flourish.
- Cohesion within the team and the wider organisation.
- Relationship and reputation building.
- No project management control of the project leads to cost and programme overruns.
- No communications with stakeholders.
- Conflict throughout the project team and organisation.
Looking at the above it can quickly be concluded that how the ego within the project is managed could be the make or break of a project being a success or failure… this is a little concerning considering that it does not feature throughout the APM BoK.
Call to action
Okay so now what do you do? You understand what an ego is, how individuals use their ego and what are the behaviours that the ego drives. So how do you apply this to your project as the project manager?
10 things that a project manager should do with his and that of his teams ego.
1. Check your ego
You have an ego. Acknowledge this fact, embrace it but make sure that you keep it in-line and do not let it get the better of you
2. Get your team to check their ego
The individuals in your team have an ego. Educate them to acknowledge this fact. Discuss and agree that you will not be an ego-driven project
3. Make very clear your expectations of others
As the leader of the project you need to make clear your expectations of others within your project team. Many of these you will capture within your Project Management Plan (PMP) when it comes to the processes, procedures and project outcomes but it is important to capture other behaviours such as respect for each other, openness to ideas, conflict resolution, project team engagement goals, success factors and even team building events are good topics for clarity.
4. Get you team to buy-in to your expectations
The above expectations are not worth the paper that they are written on if they are not fully bought into by your project team. This needs to be made clear from the get-go and then periodically throughout the life of the project to ensure that you are walking the walk. I don’t really feel that they need to be made into a formal list or document that people sign-on to — that would feel a little forced in my opinion. The expectations need to be lived and breathed by your everyone on your project.
5. Make building relationships with your team part of your day-job not just a nice to have
One of the biggest changes when you move from being a manager to being a leader is that your 9–5 is now time that you give to your team. Taking the time to listen to them, understand their aspirations in their career and what inspires them to produce their best work. There is a great book called 5 Conversations which is well worth a read as a bit of development manual for you. It advocates 1. Establishing a trusting relationship; 2. Agreeing mutual expectations; 3. Showing genuine appreciation; 4. Challenging unhelpful behaviour and 5. Building for the future. You need to make this the norm — if it means that you need to do a little bit of admin at the evenings then so be it.
6. Encourage your team to do the same
In difference to the above tips you’ll notice that I have used the words “encourage” here rather than something more definite. You cannot force your team to be prepared to work an extra hour here or there for no-pay. What you can do however, is to show them the value of building these relationships as part of team and as they start to make this part of their day-job they may not have to do the extra time but if on the odd occasion they do due to the engagement that they have on the project by building these relationships the chances are that they will be more than happy for the trade-off of time.
7. Implement a strong stakeholder communication plan
Okay; this is something that you will find in most project management trainings, methodologies and textbooks; however what I am advocating here is a subtle addition to your existing stakeholder management plan — I’m sure that you all have one right!? I am advocating here making an addition to your SCP by considering the engagement of key stakeholders. This could be simple invitations to existing meetings, asking for input into key decisions and deliverables or the creation of time in the diary to ‘get to know one another’. Your SCP will formalise what you have committed to above.
8. Make sure your project team are part of that plan
This may sound simple but the amount of stakeholder management plans that I have seen over the years that have forgotten to include their project team as key stakeholders is extraordinary — and worryingly speaks a lot for the performance of project managers and projects. Your project team are not just key stakeholders they a fundamental if you wish to achieve any of your project outcomes. Include them in you stakeholder management planning and make sure that you engage them.
9. Remember to have fun
When I talk about fun I don’t mean laughing, joking and clowning around. Fun comes in many guises. When I was a little fitter you’d often see me struggling to climb a hill on my bike pulling a face like someone at a gurning competition. I may not have looked it at the time but I was having great fun. It is too possible in the office to make the process of success fun. The best way to do this is to celebrate regularly regardless of the size of the win. How often do you hear a manager saying “I am not congratulating them for doing their job!”? This is complete BS — success breads a winning attitude and attitude is contagious.
10. Ensure you team enjoy working in your project
Continuing from the above point of ensuring that you are having fun you need to ensure that your team are also in the same mind-set when it comes to this. The best way to gauge this by measuring employee engagement throughout your project. You can only really do this if you have made building relationship with your team as part of your day-job and have been consistently practicing what you preach in this respect. Measuring their engagement is a topic of much debate. We are not looking to go scientific here just gain a feeling of your team members sense of belonging to a project and whether they are an advocate of your project; make an assessment on how willing they are to go the extra mile to support the effort of the team; and gain an insight into whether they are satisfied that they have achieved all of their career aspirations or that they feel that they are progressing the right direction.
In summary it is the responsibility of all within a project team to manage their ego. It is especially the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that the ego’s within the project team — in particularly that of the PM’s own ego — is utilised in a positive manner to deliver the outcomes of the project as a minimum whilst achieving much more in developed relationships which will have a much bigger benefit in the future.
As discussed you will not find any of these activities within a client functional specification, a contract document, a project management plan or the APM BoK. It is no wonder that these benefits are not even sought let alone achieved. However, if a PM can check their ego, make building relationships with their team as part of their day-job and encourage their team members to do the same they will achieve much more than the project outcomes and be regarded as a much more successful project manager in the process — maybe feeding their ego in the process!
I’d love to know people’s thoughts on this as this is a relatively new paradigm for myself and by some way personally my weakest part of my project management arsenal. Have you had much success with implementing similar initiatives within your projects?