A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013, states, "The project team seeks input and encourages involvement from all stakeholders when planning the project and developing the project management plan and project documents."
At this point in my career, could I create a project management plan, alone in my office with the door closed? After having managed projects and project teams for more years than I want to admit to, yes, I'm very confident that I could. And, I'm confident it would be a pretty good plan. On the other hand, as good as it may be, it will still be limited. It will be limited to what I know, and it will be limited to my point of view relative to my thoughts about what is in the plan.
So, while I could create a plan, alone in my office with the door closed, should I? Absolutely not.
There's a better way. Perhaps I should get the input of others as we create the plan……. together.
Each of the other people I ask for input will most likely approach the plan from their unique point of view. When we put it all together, I wonder what that will look like. Let's think about that for a minute.
What do you gain by seeking the input of various team members as you go about the process of creating the project plan together? At least three things:
- Multiple points of view. You gain the better idea, the better estimate, the better description and, eventually, the better overall plan, which is critically important in the creation of a comprehensive plan.
- More often than not, you gain the buy-in of the person or group you asked for input. This can be huge in obtaining and maintaining forward momentum, as well as minimizing resistance.
All of these are necessary for completing a project in the best possible way. So, what does “in the best possible way” mean?
When creating a project management plan, it means using logic, reasoning and critical thinking. These are not options; they are musts.
Critical thinking is the discipline of making sure that you use the best thought process that you are capable of in every situation. The goal is to structure your analysis of everything in a balanced way. One component of the discipline of critical thinking is to learn by questioning. The same is true in project management, and the question is, “How do you get there?”
To begin answering that question and to bridge the earlier ideas on obtaining the input of multiple people in the creation of the plan, consider this quote by Ashleigh Brilliant:
"It's strange, but, wherever I place my eyes (wherever I'm looking, and whatever I'm focusing on), they see things from… my point of view."
This is a simple quote, but one that is very important, even crucial, for any leader to remember.
According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking, your point of view – literally the place from which you view something – includes what you are looking at and the way you are seeing it. By understanding that your point of view is limited, you will appreciate the importance of fully considering other relevant viewpoints.
A healthy project manager seeks out and encourages input from team members as well as all other stakeholders. A tenant in the discipline of critical thinking indicates that the more formal education we receive, the narrower our point of view tends to become. The knowledge we are gaining expands through education, but our point of view, relative to that ever-increasing depth of knowledge, becomes more and more narrow. It's almost as if we become like racehorses with blinders on.
As project managers, seeing with a very narrow point of view is not the best approach. The question then becomes, “How can we take off the blinders?” Our point of view expands when we ask others to contribute their unique perspective. Others’ points of view will also be fairly narrow, but by getting the input of many team members, you will get the comprehensive point of view you are after, while also obtaining their “buy-in” and building trust.
Sounds great, right? But there's yet another consideration. After obtaining the information from team members, it's important to utilize that information and make sure that they know their information was used in making decisions and or solving problems. Otherwise, they will begin to look at you like the little boy who cried wolf, they'll feel like it's just something you learned in 'management class' that you don't actually believe yourself. Encouraging input contributes toward obtaining team member buy-in and helps you to put more into the ‘emotional bank account' that you have with everyone you work with.
It may seem like I'm suggesting that the whole approach is completely bottom-up. On the contrary, it must also be balanced out by utilizing firm top-down leadership. For me, that means that sometimes I use the input from a team member, and other times I don't. Sometimes, I will wait and use that input on a different project. In such a case, I will document the idea and ask the team member to remind me of it the next time it would be useful. It wouldn't be wise to use a completely bottom-up approach, just as it wouldn't be useful to use a completely top-down, "do it this way because I said so and never question me" approach. The approach needs to be balanced.
Einstein said, "Sometimes the mere formulation of a problem is more important than its solution." My take on what he was saying is: When you look at a problem or issue from a singular point of view, you are more likely to fail to identify the real problem. You'll miss the root cause of the issue and end up trying to treat the symptoms. As a result, you end up wasting time and money. How do you go about getting to the heart of the problem and identifying the root cause? You're much more likely to get there by using the collective wisdom of multiple stakeholders, combining their unique points of view in order to obtain a comprehensive view.
To wrap up, my point of view, just like my knowledge, is limited. So is yours... And that's okay... as long as we remember to bring that to the conscious level and constantly keep it in mind as you plan the work of a project and carry it out. When we all work together, we have greater knowledge from multiple points of view, and that's a very good thing. Success comes from seeing the real problem, issue or opportunity from multiple points of view and then going after it using the collective wisdom.
A healthy, successful project manager does not ignore the input of their team. They encourage it and seek it out. They utilize bottom-up input combined with firm top-down leadership, and in doing so, create a comprehensive, well thought out plan that is much more likely to lead to project success.