They say the only sure things in life are death and taxes. Let me propose a third: change. Your project team can be very diligent in its desire to define the project and capture business requirements. However, once you get going, changes will occur. You need to be prepared for your team to balk at changes on difficult and trying projects. Using your leadership skills to sell your team on project changes will keep your project on the path to success.

Times for change
Project changes usually result from two causes. First, the clients don’t understand all of the details and nuances of what they need at the time you ask them. This is normal. The project team sometimes thinks that the clients should know every detail about the solution, but that’s too high an expectation. Some requirements will be thought of later. Some requirements won’t be known until the client starts to see how the solution is shaping up.

The second reason for project change is that the business is changing, the industry is changing, and the world is changing. Even if your specifications were initially perfect, business change might require changes to your work. The whole world will not stand still while your project team completes its work.

It’s vital that the project manager and project team recognize changes when they occur and manage the changes through scope-change management. This allows the sponsor to make a decision on whether the value of the change is worth the cost to the project in terms of expense and schedule.

So, change is not inherently bad or good. However, the team can react to changes in positive and negative ways, depending on the state of the project. The first reaction from most project teams is probably one of thinking that if the project sponsor wants to make the changes, then they will go ahead and make the changes. This is the typical reaction.

Changes can be perceived as a bad thing
However, there is another reaction that can be problematic. The team may not want to make any more changes. This situation usually occurs on projects that have already had a number of problems and could happen for a variety of reasons, including:

  • It’s a long project—perhaps requiring overtime—and people just want the project to end.
  • The proposed changes will require a lot of work, and the deadline date is being held firm. Again, overtime may be required from the team.
  • Members of the project team have not had a smooth relationship with the client. There may be project team members who do not want to help the client and others who, again, may just want the project to end.
  • The changes require major upstream rework to the design, which will require changes to construction and retesting of the entire solution.

All of these situations result in a scenario where the project team is not motivated to support scope changes. This puts the project manager in a tough position. The project manager may also just want to see the project completed; however, managers usually do not have the luxury of complaining. (If they do, it should be to their own manager and project sponsor—not to the rest of the team.) So, the project manager is in a position of having to get the rest of the team onboard for one last charge.

Sell your team on the best solutions
Frankly, change is a tough sell. The team members may be tired and not motivated. In fact, morale may be poor. However, this is the time for the project manager to show leadership. Delivering yesterday’s solution is not going to help the company. The project manager must get the team motivated to make the changes. Since the causes of the team problems are probably complex, the solution should be multifaceted as well. Here are some things for the project manager to consider.

Explain the facts first
I would not start with a rah-rah speech right away. First, I would meet with the team and explain the background and circumstances. I would talk through the changes that are needed and explain why they are important from a business perspective. The project manager should make sure everyone has the same understanding of the problem and the challenges ahead.

Acknowledge the pain
I have been in similar circumstances to this when the project manager explained what was going on and then sent everyone out to do their duty. I always felt that something was missing. I think the project manager must acknowledge the problems as well. Let the team know that you understand that they may not want to make the changes and that the team morale is poor. Don’t dwell on it—but acknowledge it.

Be motivational
Okay, now is the time to motivate the team members. Appeal to their sense of working together as a team to get through this adversity. Let them know the value they are providing to the company.

Talk to everyone one-on-one
In addition to the team meeting, talk to the entire team one-on-one to understand where they are mentally. Listen to their concerns and get their personal commitment to work hard and keep going.

Get management and the sponsor involved
Now is also a good time to ask your manager and your sponsor to talk to the team, thank them for their work so far, and ask for their continued help getting through the changes.

Look for perks
Little perks can help a team get through motivational and morale trouble. These can be as simple as donuts in the morning and pizza for those who have to work overtime.

Make sure the clients are in there with you
Normally, if the project team is working extra, the clients are sharing the pain as well. However, the project manager should make sure this is the case.

Communicate proactively
Keep everyone informed as to the state of the project and the time and effort remaining. If the project manager starts becoming closed off and is secretive with information, it causes many more morale problems.

Celebrate successes
The project manager does not need to wait until the project is over to declare success. Look for milestones, or mini-milestones, as opportunities to celebrate a victory and give praise to team members.

Some people might read this column and say that the team members are being coddled. After all, they are paid to do a job, and they just need to do it.

Yes, you can take that approach as well, but this is an example of a team that is already hurting. Taking an attitude of “just do your job” can result in people cutting corners, short-changing testing, and looking for the path that gets them to the end with the least effort required. In the longer term it increases burnout and makes it harder for people to be productive in their next assignment. It can also lead to turnover, which is exactly what you do not want to happen in a situation like this.

A project manager needs to have more management and leadership tools than simply telling people to “do their jobs.” This is a tough situation and requires good people-management skills to get through it successfully. Success is never guaranteed, but utilizing some of these tips can help make success a reality, even when dealing with change.