TechRepublic columnist Tom Mochal receives dozens of e-mails each week from members with questions about project management problems. Mochal shares member questions and the answers he provides in a column each month. So often, IT pros tell TechRepublic that they receive the most insight when they learn about real-life situations that other IT pros are facing.
Through a combination of hard work, luck, and executive turnover, I was appointed as the IT Director at my company, reporting to the CFO. Based on my technical background, I really felt like I was standing in the fire for a number of months. My first order of business was to deal with a critical project that was all but dead. We were constantly setting dates for parallel testing and not meeting them, because of my inexperience and the unrealistic dates set by the lead developer. I put in a lot of time and sweat dealing with the client managers and the project team. Just as the project was on the verge of being canceled, we started to turn it around.
Now that the project is more successful, it seems more people are coming out of the woodwork to take credit for it. In some instances, their efforts appear to be succeeding. All the effort that a few others and I put in may end up meaning nothing. How do I get recognized for the hard work and sleepless nights I put in to make this project successful? If you think I should just consider it a learning experience, please tell me what I have learned.—P.C.
P.C.: Your story rings true to me because I was in a similar situation years ago.
I was a 28-year-old successful contractor at a major consulting company. Through a combination of hard work and luck, I was offered a position as the manager of a branch office. This position included hiring and firing authority, profit and loss responsibility, and so on. I was in charge, reporting to a remote manager 500 miles away.
Like you, I wasn’t entirely ready and had to learn fast. Like you, I made some mistakes. However, the experience gained during that time has helped me ever since in my career. For one thing, after living through that job, I can honestly say that I have never been intimidated by any other challenge I have faced.
You are in the same position. If you think that management is the direction you want your career to take, you will have this position and experience on your resume forever. If you leave your company, you can probably land a new position much higher up than you might have otherwise.
You have learned how not to do things. You have learned what you would do differently next time. You have learned how to deal with senior managers. You have learned how to better manage projects. You have acquired some techniques that were successful that you can apply in the future. I would guess that you have learned a lot, even though you may not appreciate all of it until later.
Now, what about the short-term? There is not necessarily just one answer. This also gets a little dicey because there is not a specific set of processes and techniques you can use. Getting credit for your accomplishments may require some politics and self-promotion. By its nature, politics involve people and circumstances that are different in every situation. Part of the challenge is to evaluate the people and circumstances to see how best to proceed. Let me give you a couple of things to think about.
Start with an honest evaluation of your role and your contributions on this project. I want you to get credit where credit is earned. But don’t take credit for other people’s work and don’t take credit for things that other people perceive as failures. There is more to this than just stating that you worked long and hard and now the project is turning around. What did you specifically do that caused the turnaround? For instance, did you provide more resources at critical times to hit your end dates? Did you push the clients to take more active ownership? Did you have the entire project re-estimated so that there was a clearer idea of effort and cost? Did you keep team morale high when the project was at its lowest?
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Fortunately, you are in a good position to control communication flow from the project. You can leverage this to maximize the exposure for your role. One idea is to begin writing a weekly status report for managers and stakeholders. Use the status reports to stress accomplishments of the team, including your own. Make sure you point out issues that you helped resolve, risks that you helped mitigate, morale boosting events that you sponsored, etc.
Also look for opportunities to stress your role on the project from a historical perspective. For instance, if you discuss team morale, point out how bad morale was earlier and how much it has improved based on your actions. If the team is hitting its end dates, point out that this was not occurring earlier in the project. On the surface, this communication is meant to inform on current status. But under the surface, you are trying to show the value you provided and the role you played. Of course, from a political perspective, you must be subtle. If the communication appears to be a forum for you to pat yourself on the back, then it will backfire and turn people off.
In addition, seek out opportunities for personal dialog along these same lines with the controller, CFO and other stakeholders. If you do not have regular meetings with them, try to catch them informally. Let them know the status of the project and always tie it to what you are doing to help it along. Of course, be subtle.
Depending on your background with the company, people may continue to see you as a technician first. Part of getting out of that perception will require confidence, having the respect of your own staff, being seen as a leader, and being able to discuss business issues without using technical jargon. If you need help with these kinds of skills, look for training opportunities.
In conclusion, look for opportunities to take credit where credit is due. If others are taking credit for accomplishments they were not involved in—challenge them. The challenge can be as simple as asking them what they did that contributed to the accomplishment. Remember that much of politics is communications—getting your message to the right people at the right time.
There is an old joke about the various stages of a project. I believe the last stage is “praise and rewards to the nonparticipants.” I have never actually seen that occur, but maybe that is what you are seeing. Don’t let it happen! Get your story out there and remember to bring your team along with you. The best managers make sure that their teams get all the credit while at the same time making sure people understand that none of it would have happened without their active involvement.
Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project management and life-cycle skills. He's also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.