If your team experiences high-stress, anxiety, low morale, and burnout from continuous, fast-paced projects, you may wonder: what can I do to escape this situation? Before you go looking for a new job, know that all is not lost. As a leader and manager, there are steps you can take to fix the poor mental health of your team. These tips are based on advice from an extreme project management expert, and should help restore the health of your team.
But wait! Did you read our first post discussing the basics of the fast-paced, extreme project management, and how to decide if it's right for your team? Go read it now and come back to this post when you're ready to learn how to be a great leader for your extreme projects.
Leadership and Management for Extreme Projects
For extreme projects, being a great leader and manager is even harder because the projects you lead change constantly, which means you must change constantly too. In his book eXtreme Project Management, Doug DeCarlo gives an in-depth overview of extreme project management. According to him, this methodology does not begin and end at managing work in a flexible environment; it also includes adapting your mindset to a new way of thinking and developing a new set of leadership skills.
If you are a leader of extreme projects, and you want to work on improving your leadership and management skills, we have some tips to help you be a better leader for your team.
Tips to rework your management style:
1. Set priorities. Set project priorities, tell the team why they've been prioritized that way, and if the project is cancelled, give them sound reasoning. If you have standards for determining project priority, your team will feel less frustration when project priorities shift.
2. Communicate constantly. In a flexible environment, projects change a lot. Do not keep your team in the dark. If there is an update, tell them what has changed and why — immediately. Waiting means there is a higher chance someone will have to redo their work in order to match the new requirements. Avoid high-stress situations by communicating every project change quickly and clearly.
3. Set clear roles & ownership. Extreme project management means that there is less hierarchy and time involved in decision-making. That means everyone needs to know exactly who has the knowledge (or ability) to make decisions. Ensure that roles and responsibilities on your team and within management are crystal clear. And give your individual team members the confidence to make their own calls if they see something that needs to be done. XPM is about spreading and sharing responsibility, not locking it into the hands of a few people.
4. Reward your team for a job well done. If you're working on a fast-paced project with changing requirements and ever-increasing scope, chances are you'll be awash in relief when the project is finally complete. As a manager, make sure you recognize the great effort it took to get from day 1 to the end. Celebrate the skills, problem-solving, and high energy your team exhibited during the project before moving on to the next. If your team knows you appreciate and recognize them, it will fight low morale and burnout, and motivate your team for the next challenge.
Tips to adapt your leadership mindset:
1. Study your own temperament. Your temperament is a good indication of your behavior during projects. Great leaders learn how to remain calm under pressure, even when their extreme project team is stressed — which will certainly happen with these types of projects. Are you able to be the voice of reason in a difficult situation? Practice soft skills to create a good atmosphere for your projects; read books on better communication, negotiation, conflict resolution, and influencing people. Check out our list of books every manager should read.
2. Learn to accept change as good. Humans like stability; it's in our nature. With everything constantly changing, extreme projects put a lot of emotional strain on the people involved. But you can't resist changes to project plans if you want XPM to work for your team, so learn how to get comfortable with last-minute scrambles. If you can't fully get comfortable, at least be aware of your own resistance so that you can fight your tendencies when they rear their predictable heads. Remember: if your project is changing, it is probably for the better. Don't shoot down new ideas without considering how they can positively impact your final outcome!
3. Trust your team to be responsible, capable adults. If you come from traditional management styles, where all decisions are made slowly after being reviewed by countless people, XPM will probably make your head spin. Decisions are made faster, and without the red tape that comes with big companies and complex hierarchies. Trust your team (and yourself!) to be intimate enough with the project that they will make the best decisions for your project without requiring extra input each time. If you have communicated the project goals clearly and thoroughly, then everyone should be able to make informed decisions for the team.
Leadership is a Constant Work-in-progress
I argue that leadership and management skill sets are not the kind you can master — they are the kind that you constantly work to improve. People look to you to make the best decisions, to always know what is going on with every aspect of every project, and to remain calm under the pressure of intense project environments. You have to be a hero among heroes, and that is hard. In order to be the best leader and manager you can be, it requires constant vigilance and education.
Are you leading an extreme project team? What tips can you give for being a better leader? Share your wisdom with us in the comments.