The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world
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Relationships? Who needs them?

building relationships

Sticking with my basics theme, how do you feel about building relationships?  Does it scare you or does it excite you?  Do you feel like its unnecessary or extremely important?  Maybe the better question is…HOW?

Well if you ask me, I would say it excites me and I think its extremely important!  Then again, I am an extrovert who loves people and building relationships is easy for me.  So that makes the last question even more critical.  How?  How do you build relationships?  How do I make people listen to me? How do I make people want to work on my project?

Before I get into the HOW, let’s talk about the WHY.  Why bother building relationships?  Why does it matter to a PM?  Why should I?

I have been working as a PM for almost 10 years, mostly for high-tech companies around the bay area.  My teams consisted of both onsite and remote team members including several in different countries.  Pretty much the norm for the bay area right?  Teams members including geeky tech guys to crazy sales and marketing guys.  The WHY for me is pretty simple…competition for resources!   As you are well aware…its always do more with less!  One person now has to do the job of five and not to mention that you are late even before you start.  People are juggling more than one project at a time, being pulled into a hundred different directions and of course everyone thinks their project has priority.  I found that by gaining their trust and building relationships they tend to help me more.  So what do I mean by help me?  Well, they attend my meetings because they know I only invite them if I need them, they answer emails promptly because they know I don’t send them 50 emails a day and copy the whole world, they take time out of their day when needed to answer questions  and most importantly they deliver!  In most cases they even do it with a smile :)

So now to the HOW…I am sure you are thinking…”but Daisie, you are an extrovert so its easy for you!  I am shy, I don’t think I can do it!”

Well there are a million books out there that could possibly help.  How to Win Friends and Influence People, How to Make Someone Like you in 90 Seconds or Less etc… give them a shot if want but I have some easy ideas that work for just about everyone.  How do I know?  What data have I collected?  Well the BEST data point ever…my Mother!  She is the most introvert person I know and a couple of years ago she became a supervisor and she asked me for some pointers.  My sister, also an introvert asked me for the same help this past year when she was promoted.  Its slightly out of their comfort zone but they have seen a huge difference in their team’s performance and their relationships with their team.

Here are a few ideas to try and I will even put them in PMI terms to help you relate!

Initiating – The Kick OFF – Introduce yourself!  Seems simple enough right but maybe not.  Have you ever said “Hi!” to someone in the hall for months or even years and not even know their name?  How embarrassing is it to have to say…oh yeah and your name is?  Well wouldn’t it be horrible to talk to someone through email for months during a project and it turns out they were that person?  Or a person who sits three rows over?  When I get a new team I take the time to introduce myself.  I send a fun email to the team to say “Hi!  I’m Daisie!” and I add some fun facts about myself.  What I do in my spare time, what my Guilty Pleasure TV Show is etc…  I then try to schedule a few minutes with each person to personally introduce myself.  (If they are remote I schedule a conference call.)  During this time, go for a walk, get coffee, or in some of the funner places…play pool or table tennis.  Find out more about them too!  Do they have a family (so no 6pm in person meetings?) How many other projects are you working on?  What is your Guilty Pleasure TV show etc…

Planning – Happy Hour anyone?  – Team Building! So you tried your best to get them to open up to you when you introduced yourself but it didn’t work.  You or they were just too shy and you felt too much pressure.  Maybe even felt like the walls had ears?  Why not invite everyone out for a drink?  Its not exactly one on one time but they will appreciate the jester and it gives everyone on the team a chance to get to know each other personally.  If your company actually has money…maybe a team building activity?  Bowling?  Go Kart racing?  Especially a good idea if you know some of your remote members are going to be in town for some event or training?  Use this time to have fun and get to know everyone better and if there is someone you really don’t know spend extra time with them.  If your remote members can’t make it,  promise them that you will buy them a drink or dinner the next time they are in town or if you visit them.  (Note – this doesn’t have to happen at the beginning of a project…it can happen at anytime especially if you feel like you aren’t working well together or if things seem tense.  If after work doesn’t work for your team, take them out to lunch or have lunch brought it and meet in a conference room.)  Oh and remember…what is said at these events – stays at these events! Especially if alcohol is present.

Executing – Trust Me!  – Now that you know everyone, or at least starting to get to know them you have to prove to them that they can trust you.  ALL relationships are built on trust and work relationships even more so.  How do you build trust?  First of all DWYSYWD… Do What You Say You Will Do!  Don’t say you will do something and not do it. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.  Don’t call meetings just to hear yourself talk.  Don’t send 200 emails a day and copy everyone. Don’t immediately go to their boss if someone is late or behind.  Don’t break confidences. Don’t treat people badly.  Don’t expect everyone to drop everything they are doing just for you.  Don’t call lunch meetings and meetings at 8am on a Monday or 4pm on a Friday.  Don’t call them out in front of everyone. If you can avoid all of things above you are well on your way to building trust…and you really could be the Best PM Ever!!!

Monitoring and Controlling – DO! – Listen! – That was a lot of Don’ts so this section is all about DOing. Like I mentioned before, Do what you say you will Do!  Do stop by someone’s cube and say hello now and again (and not need anything). Do remember to ask about their family or weekend or whatever. Do follow up with someone off line and give them feedback. Do ask questions and most importantly LISTEN to the response.  (Their work may just be a check mark on your long list but to them its very important.)  Do ask if there is anything that you can do to help or make things easier for them!  Sometimes just asking helps a lot but occasionally you can help set priorities or get more resources.  (You will never know if you don’t ask!!)  Even more importantly: Do recognize them for their contribution!  People get negative feedback all day long but how many positive comments do they get?  I heard it takes 11 positive comments to erase 1 negative one.  Do use specific and authentic examples! Lastly, Do ask for help when needed.  You are their leader but they are experts in their area.  Ask them to help explain something, or show you how something works etc…nothing makes people feel better than showing off their strengths.

Closing – Never Say Good-Bye…instead See You Soon and Great Work!  I think a lot of times we forget about closing…we are moving 100 miles a second and then its off to the next project.  Try to have a party to celebrate finishing the project but also to show appreciation for the team.  As before use specific examples of the great work they did.  Maybe give away funny awards… Best Dressed…Most Enthusiastic…Messiest Desk…Longest Email etc… Have fun with it!  If you can’t have a party, call a lunch meeting and do the same.  Slideshow?  Regardless, make sure and take time to recognize everyone.  You can do the project review later…show your team you appreciate them and the work that they did for and with you.  Chances are that you will be working with them again and this will make your stock go up!

So how do you feel now? Still a little uncomfortable?  Well if it was easy…everyone would do it!  In general my advice breaks down to… Treat people like people, do what you say you will do, listen and appreciate!  This should help you gain trust and build relationships and hopefully lead to a successful project.  If not at least you will have had fun and made a few friends along the way.

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About the Author

Daisie Hobson, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, recently returned from Mexico where she served as a Project Management Specialist at a government research center. Daisie was responsible for identifying the initial areas of improvement in the new project management system, implementing project management tools and policies, creating a weekly reporting system, working with and training project managers, assessing the current project management system and creating a project management curriculum for training future project managers. She also led several English conversation classes, tutored individuals in English and edited several research papers. A ceramist by education, she began her professional career in the Semiconductor Industry. She worked for leading companies such as Motorola, Flip Chip, Medtronic and KLA-Tencor. She then switched to consumer products by moving to Palm, Inc. where she helped launch Windows Mobile products and the revolutionary WebOS, the Palm Pre and Pixi. Her work in these areas took her to Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, India and The Philippines, where she met wonderful people, tried fantastic food and learned more about the local culture.
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