We all know that projects are full of problems. Our daily business as project managers is a never-ending fight for resources, with ever changing requirements, budget cuts and unwanted delays.
Projects are volatile, full of risks and sometimes even decorated with incompatible goals. I am not exaggerating when I say: This is what our business is like, nothing to be done about it.
Really nothing? No ideas?
Bury your head in the sand!
The spontaneous reaction of some project mangers to problems showing up would be:
- Get angry.
- Solve the problem reluctantly, probably rant about it and hate the world for it.
- Hope there are no further problems ahead and bury your head in the sand.
- Realise the latter was utterly wrong.
This sounds like a very frustrating process to me. There must be other ways.
Take on the challenge
Problems are there to be solved. Take them on as a challenge. Try to see unpredictable problems not as a nuisance but as part of your job. Problems are not the exception, but they are the rule. So it makes no sense to not accept them. Think the other way: If there were no problems and everything would always run smoothly, there would be no need for project managers. Maybe there would just be project planners and their job would be done once the project got going. No problems, no job for you. Simple as that.
You better accept this and enjoy the challenges posed. See them as a test of your brain, your creativity. See them as a way to prove yourself worthy.
Of course, I know this is all way easier said than done. But it is the only sensible way to deal with it. Maybe it helps knowing some real advantages in seeing problems as enjoyable challenges:
- Tackling a challenge will feel like much more fun than looking at it as dealing with an annoying problem. Now some might say, this is just playing with words. But I would disagree, this is all about YOUR attitude. The psychology will work if you don’t just say challenge, but mean and feel challenge.
- We tend to solve problems when they become unavoidable, when there is a sense of urgency. But by then the problem might have grown considerably. Or it might be much more complex than you thought and now you are out of time. A challenge however, you might just tackle early-on. This minimises risks considerably.
- The more challenges you have tackled, the better you will feel and the smoother your project will progress. Future problems – oops, we call them challenges, don’t we – will appear much less frightening and you will be way more relaxed when some further unexpected threats appear.
Think of a current problem in your project. How do you feel now? Stressed out?
This is a good starting point. Wouldn’t it feel great if you could solve that problem?
Now, imagine yourself as a firefighter! Do they hate fighting fires? No! Usually they love it. If there is a fire they can finally demonstrate what they are trained for.
You as a project manager are the firefighter of your project. And those random problems which no one expects are your fires. You might have heard of some firefighters who loved it so much, that later they even got convicted of arson. Of course you should not follow down that path. But you better get that positive attitude of the majority of firefighters and look forward to the challenges ahead, the unforeseeable as much as the foreseeable. Problem solving is exactly your job.
If you see it as a challenges, a way to prove worthy of your job, then it can even be fun to tackle them. Sometimes, they even turn out to be hidden opportunities, as described in last week’s article ‘The Six Simple Rules: 4. Don’t miss additional opportunities’.
Alexander Blumenau (*1972) is a portfolio and project manager. With over a decade of international project experience he has been in charge as head of R&D in high-tech industries.
Originally Alexander started his career as a scientist and holds a doctoral degree in Physics. Besides his interests in project management, company processes and structures, he works as a free author and arts photographer.