*DPMs: be open and honest, and never shy away from difficult conversations*

If you want to be a great digital project manager (DPM), you need to earn the trust of those around you. Here’s the skinny on just how to do that.

Be open

Let me clear. I’m not saying you walk around with the winds whistling through your ears while your brains drip down your shoulders. Instead, open your mind when in project manager mode because a closed mind is an empty mind — or so they say.

Approach your working day with an open mind. Be open to ideas, to solutions, to arguments, to logic, to facts, to people, to new ways of working, to possibilities. As DPM, you ought to lead by example, too, and demonstrably give time to other’s ideas. Keep your door open, too, so people can approach you for advice or to raise a concern. Take time to see things as other people do, walk a mile in their shoes for change. Park your prejudices — we all have them, even you — and remember that things aren’t always black and white.

Practice this whenever you can. Take a deep breath. Stand still. Swallow your pride. Be prepared to listen, observe, learn and discuss.

Tips:

  • Hold weekly ‘Lessons Learned’ meetings where each team member talks about what they’ve learned, good and bad
  • Make time to do great things by organising regular team sessions to explore new ideas and new approaches — anything can and should go here. Do this in an unfamiliar setting if you can
  • Look beyond the realm of DPM for new ideas. For example, inspired by an article on Leadership capabilities, we applied the principles of sensemaking to improve our project delivery through a better understanding of the context in which we operate

Be Honest

Ah, our old friend *honesty*. Some folk think the truth should be hidden under the stairs like an unwanted child. Not me, although being honest is one of the hardest things to be and do. Most people want something beautiful, not the truth. There are a few exceptions around appearance, dress sense, body mass/shape, cooking, how many drinks have you had, whether you like your partner’s friends, what you’d save in the event of a fire (I’m very fond of my snow shaker collection, we’ll leave it at that), things you’d rather be doing, your favourite child and your love of Steven Segal films. But I digress…

The DPM’s job is to create and live the team culture, to show people that being honest is ok and encouraged. Always be polite, and never raise your voice, as you want to encourage honesty, not force it underground. When honesty goes to ground, prevarication becomes infectious, obfuscation spreads and, before you know it, obscurantism takes hold. People start to diddle. Hoods are winked. You may find yourself taken for ride while someone gently pulls the wool over your eyes. It may even give rise to hornswoggling — happened to me once, but that’s another blog. This can all be prevented if you make probity your watchword. Show your team you have principles and high standards. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. If you cannot deliver a piece of work on time, say so. If you disagree with an approach, say so. If you need more resources…well, you get the picture. Wear your thoughts on your sleeve and others will follow.

Tips:

  • Make clear the inextricable link between honesty and learning your lessons, where being honest can solve future problems and improve delivery. If your team see being honest as an integral part of the project approach and process, they are more likely to embrace it
  • Don’t over-promise. If you’re always honest about the status of the project you’ll eventually get — in the words of the late, great James Brown — the big payback: TRUST
  • Don’t have secret meetings, never have an inner-circle, keep your team in da loop

So, people, plant the flag of honesty, raise it high and give it a resolute salute daily. People will respect you for it.

Difficult conversations

Honesty and difficult conversations are very closely related and are often joined at the hip. One tends to follow the other around, so be prepared.

Now, no one enjoys difficult conversations, but let’s get some perspective here. You’re not telling someone they have weeks to live, telling your adversary you’re their father or finishing a long term relationship. So get a grip, and don’t procrastinate — putting off a difficult conversation is an excellent way to induce insomnia and stress.

The conversation should be done face to face, or at least by phone or Skype — no emails! Think of all sides and perspectives to the conversation. Collect your thoughts and rehearse your view, but be prepared to see where the conversation takes you. Be open and honest during the discussion, and agree the outcome, including any decisions, with the other party/parties. This should be noted and shared with all concerned afterwards — let there be no doubt.

There is no right or wrong in terms of the outcome here. Sometimes it’s just about clearing the air, finding common ground or agreeing a plan of action. So embrace those tense and awkward conversations, they could save a project, improve customer relationship or win over a senior manager

Quite often these conversations are about saying no, politely and firmly. I’d say think of a compromise you’re prepared to live with, just in case. Battles, wars and all that.

Tips:

  • Be sincere, honest and direct
  • Use logic, evidence and reason to support your view
  • That being said, emotion can play a part here. A heart felt plea can go a long way sometimes if used wisely
  • Remember this is not a blamestorm
  • Try to find a way to link the topic of the conversation to the greater good of the project and the team
  • Record any decisions in a Decisions Log along with the context — the circumstances surrounding the decision — so that you do not dwell on the past

Lesson over. Phew. The best way to remember this advice is to become a child again. They have open minds. Children take everything at face value without looking for ulterior motives or hidden meanings. And the sense of wonder hasn’t been knocked out of them — yet.

Good luck.