Building Trust

Trust is a big component of successful project management. Team resources need to trust that each will will do what he/she has agreed to do, and will do it proficiently. The project owners trust the project manager to effectively manage all the resources, and ensure the project stays on schedule and on budget. The project manager needs to manage trust both up and down the project org structure. Without trust of the project owner, there is uncertainty about the goals, resources and schedule. And without some level of trust of the team resources, the project manager won’t be able to effectively communicate status or have any confidence that the work will get done. Unfortunately, trust is also an area that can be severely lacking in project dynamics.

Let’s first address the trust dynamic between the project manager and the project owner and stakeholders. The stakeholders are those people impacted by the project being delivered. The project owner should be the project’s advocate and supporter within the organization. Lack of trust can manifest itself in several different ways including:

  • stakeholders not trusting the project team to deliver the “right” business solution
  • stakeholders don’t trust that the project team will deliver on time
  • project owner is skeptical of the project success

As project manager, your ultimate success (of the project and within the organization) is dependent on how you manage these concerns. Trust is not something given lightly, it must be earned. If you are working with this project owner and stakeholders for the first time, or had the unfortunate situation of a prior project not going well, you will need to assume there are gaps in trust. Once you recognize this as a challenge, you can take the necessary steps to move forward. These should include:

  • understanding the business objectives and challenges the project is supposed to resolve.
    • ask to sit with the business users and share their problem. This deep understanding will help the team deliver the right solution.
  • as much communication as required by the project owner and stakeholders to make them feel included (and informed).
    • Ex: weekly email statuses or twice weekly status calls; or a couple of in depth show and tell sessions. It will really depend on the organization and the specific stakeholders.
    • communicating setbacks or challenges.  Do not shy away from sharing, or feel you need to hide the negative. Doing so will negatively impact project perception, and is counter to the trust you are trying to build.
  • using agile methodologies to deliver functionally ready project components iteratively through the project timeline that you can show the stakeholders.

Next up is the trust dynamic between the project team members (resources and project manager). Again, there can be many reasons why trust is non-existent within the team. Some include:

  • New project manager or team members that have never worked together before.
  • One or more team members have previously demonstrated some undesirable traits (ie. not delivering, not communicating delays, etc).

The team members do not have to like each other, although that can help. The project manager’s goal is to foster enough mutual respect to trust that the work will get done, and  the right project solution gets delivered to the stakeholders. A few methods for doing this include:

  • holding regular project touchbase calls.
    • these can be daily standups, or twice a week status calls. Figure out what works for you and your team.
  • having team members share information about external activities and families.
    • This helps team members see how similar they are, and lets them see the passion and interests that drives each of them.
  • providing time for peer programming or “cardboard batman” sessions.
    • By allowing the team members to help each other, they build deeper connections and foster trust. It makes the project a team effort, not just isolated, individual work.
  • Setting clear expectations, then verifying them.
    • It’s important to provide as much information as you have at the time you have it. Requirements are more fluid than we all care to admit, but making sure you pass new information on quickly will help with trust.
    • As project manager, do your best to verify the work delivered. This may be internal qa or show and tell with the stakeholders.
  • Acknowledging mistakes and promoting successes.
    • People want to do a good job. They also enjoy when those details gets shared within the organization. The project manager needs to take time to promote the team members.
    • Mistakes happen. They can significantly impact the project so they can’t be ignored. More important than the actual mistake is figuring out how to fix it. Acknowledge it, and then find a solution to get it remedied.

There are many different skills that make you an effective project manager. All of them are for not, if you can’t build the trust you need among the team. I challenge you to take a hard look at your projects and make sure you are taking the necessary steps to build the trust you need to make the project, and your team successful.

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