What male project managers can learn from their female colleagues


By getting the project off the ground so very quickly, the project manager had really impressed his sponsor. Inside three weeks, he and his IT team were ready to present their first solutions. “This is quite tangible stuff already,” the client complimented the team. However, soon afterward, things went downhill.

The project started to stall. The project manager’s plans met with resistance from future software users. There was friction in the team and the team’s spirit began to sag. “Just push through,” the project manager thought to himself. He negotiated with future users, also asking them for their expectations. In the team he exchanged three programmers for new ones.

In the end, it was a close call, but he could keep his project going – and he had his colleague to thank for this. She helped him with the difficult conversations. “Not so fast!” she had warned him, “Your project needs to walk before it can run.”

The start phase is deemed the Achilles’ heel of a project. The first weeks of a
project determine its final success.

Experts observe that men kick off their projects differently from women. They risk a cold start. As soon as plans begin to take shape, they already work on technical solutions. Women, on the other hand, think long and hard about the project and typically take care of management tasks first. For example, they would ask stakeholders such as future software users about their expectations, and give their answers consideration in their plans.

“Women tend to focus on communication, team building and the nitty gritty details when starting a project”, explains project management coach Gaston Saborowski of next level consulting. “They integrate their team members into the decision-making process and like to make everyone in the team feel comfortable.”

Can men learn from this? Sobrowski comments: “Men might be inspired to give a project more thought and time when preparing.”

A project hinges on its preparation; it’s make or break for the project.

Saborowski has been working in the field of project management since 1996. Here is his simple yet fail-proof task list for the first weeks of a project:

First task: Assemble a team

Professionals can quickly recognise the challenges and tasks of a new project. They can list which specialists they will need on the team – and will search for the right candidates within their network first, for example among colleagues with whom they have worked in the past and with whom they have made good experiences.

“Men look at skills when assembling their team,” says Saborowski. “Women also look at the chemistry between team members and aim for the right mix of personalities in the group.”

However, favourite candidates are not always available and sometimes need to decline the project manager’s request to join the team. In such a case, the project manager could ask the support of his first choice in finding a suitable ‘substitute’. This is how it can work: The project manager describes exactly the skills and competencies he requires in his future team member – his first choice – and he can then discuss the merits of the ‘substitutes’ as HR hands in suggestions. How much and which experience does this ‘substitute’ have? What is her preferred working style? How would she fit into the team?

Second task: Risk management

Male project managers tend to take risks more lightly than female project managers. This does not have to be a disadvantage. “Being too concerned with risks and problems can also turn into a quagmire for the project”, says Saborowski. “The project might sink into despondency.”

This is how project managers can best deal with risks: First, they analyse only significant risks by gauging their probability, by discussing their impact on the project and by determining how the team can best prepare and respond if this risk should become a reality.

Some risks can even be eliminated completely by putting countermeasures in place. Emergency plans can be drawn up for the remaining risks. “And, sometimes, the best decision is to take a calculated risk,” Saborowski concludes the subject.

Third task: Integrate stakeholders

Many projects fail because of resistance from stakeholders. Stakeholders push for their interests. They may undermine plans and exert pressure on the project. Often, it is the simple fact that they have not been included in the planning process which puts stakeholders on the offensive. That is why experienced project managers involve stakeholders early on by presenting their plans and asking for expectations.

Male and female project managers frequently differ in how they deal with stakeholder involvement. Women tend to share plans at an early stage, to signal the will to co-operate and to seek consensus.
Men prefer first to have some work results in hand before approaching stakeholders and negotiating these results – sometimes with vehemence. “Women ask for expectations. Men defend their work,” summarises Saborowski. Both approaches work!

Fourth task: Hold a kickoff workshop with the team

The project kickoff workshop is where the project comes to life. The team comes together. The project manager explains the objectives and lays out the plans.

Many male project managers like to bring completed plans to the workshop. They have already decided what work the team is to deliver and how. They have set up a schedule, identified milestones and formulated specific tasks. They might even have compiled a budget proposal.

At the workshop, the team merely needs to define work packages and assign
responsibilities and competencies.

Fifth task: Draw up ground rules

This is something that men – contrary to women – like to delay: the talk with the team about how they would like to work together. How will conflicts be resolved, for example? How will discussion be held? What should work handover processes look like? What can the team do to maintain an upbeat work climate?

Such questions can go unanswered for a time, but they will raise their heads sooner or later. At that point, resentment might have built up already, for example about a conflict that had been swept under the carpet.

Experts recommend holding such discussions about how to work together productively. Don’t hurry this meeting; include all team members and seek
consensus if at all possible.

“Women spend much more energy than men on carefully clearing up these interpersonal issues,” observes Saborowski. “Male project managers can really learn from this.” He adds with a quiet smile: “But they can still be men!”

Article courtesy of next level consulting


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