Part 1: navigating the emotional cycle of change as a client project manager
When clients ask Kepner-Tregoe to drive initiatives that target performance improvements, we use a variety of tools and techniques. Typically these include capability development and knowledge transfer to the client project managers on the teams that we lead. Often these individuals have limited project management experience on large, organization-wide projects or lack continuous improvement experience, but are still responsible for driving the project to a successful completion.
We’ve noticed that there are five stages our client project managers go through, based on our work partnering with clients across many industries to tackle big performance improvement projects. I had the opportunity to interview project managers that were part of a 2013 Kepner-Tregoe Global Process Achievement Award-winning team, a group that demonstrated particularly outstanding achievements. These stages provide insight on how project managers can “learn and do” on the job. They provide a view—from a project managers perspective—of an effective and efficient way to build project management and performance improvement expertise as well as what it takes to claim ownership of the project and what improvements can be achieved.
Here it is, from their perspective:
Stage 1: Uninformed Optimism
I was very excited when the VP in charge of the program called me in for a meeting and offered me an opportunity to lead one of the work streams. I remember that I left her office feeling pumped up with a challenge in hand. I felt that all my hard work in my current role had been recognised and my leaders believed in me. I told myself that I would give 110% and will ensure that this project is a success. I could already taste the sense of achievement. I could see my targets and just wanted to get on with the project and make it a success. I was ready to learn new concepts and apply them during the project. Once the news sunk in, I started to get nervous as well but I was motivated by the opportunity.
Stage 2: Informed Pessimism
As the project progressed, the challenges also started to arise. I would be lying if I said that I did not get self sabotaging thoughts. I asked myself if I was good enough to do this, if I was being underestimated by some people. I did lose confidence for a short while. I felt a little unmotivated at certain stages when I was overwhelmed by the challenges.
Stage 3: Hopeful Realism
That’s when I told myself that failure was not a choice. I looked up for a mentor. I remember throwing a million questions at the KT Consultant to boost my confidence, to show me direction. KT shared lots of knowledge and challenges to motivate me. I was charged up again. Also, I looked up to my manager for support to help me overcome the hurdles during the project and she was always there to boost my confidence.
Stage 4: Informed Optimism
I started to feel that it wasn’t as bad as I thought. There was a support network and the right tools available. Thanks to KT for the invaluable training and tools, I made use of all the relevant tools on hand to set my targets. I had an action plan which I reviewed daily to review progress and highlight risks. I ensured that I was communicating with the right people regularly to bring the project back on track.
Nearing the project close, I could see the success awaiting. I knew that I would be able to get there just after completing the last few hurdles. I told myself multiple times every day that we cannot lose from here. I talked to the team regularly to ensure they were motivated as well. I thanked them daily for their support.
Stage 5: Completion
On the day of the project closure presentation, I was a little nervous as I still had a punch list to complete. The presentation went well and my Company’s leaders provided a lot of motivation through their appreciation for the work done, but I told myself that the job was not done yet. I went back to it the next day ensuring all the items on the punch list were completed. The challenges were not over yet; however, the dream did come true: the project succeeded. I still enjoy the memories of the challenges I faced as it gave me the platform to grow, to learn more and to succeed.
Since the completion of this project, as the Kepner-Tregoe representative I had moved onto different work engagements. I came back to attend the project managers presentation to the company’s operating board detailing their results. I wanted to show my support. I walked into a little conference room just when they were doing their practice run. They were visibly nervous, you could hear it in their voices. These guys had rarely done presentations and now they were about to present to a room full of Vice Presidents and the Managing Director. I told them what I often tell my project managers, which is, “You guys have been living and breathing this for months, no one knows this stuff better, you are the experts”. I said that with confidence and, there is always a part of me that feels just a bit of anxiety. However, I am proud to say these guys proved that there was absolutely no need to be anxious. As they achieved all of their objectives the project was a big success! You might imagine also that the presentation was very well received. And for them personally, they improved their project management skills and built confidence that they could deliver projects successfully in the future. It was a big win for all.
Presently I am not assigned to the projects these individuals are working on, however, we regularly catch up to discuss challenges and solutions. My expectation is, in a few years, they will be sitting on the other side of the table. Only with one difference; This time they’ll be assessing the presentation not delivering it.