Why Relationships Are the REAL Key to Success

As a new project manager, I relied on instinct and bootstrapped my management tools and methods.

I wish I knew then what I know now:  project management isn’t just about the people, process and technology.

It’s really all about relationships.

To create an environment that encourages respect, openness, and trust, you need to build relationships with your team AND your stakeholders.

And, conveniently, a lot of the work that’s required to create strong relationships also supports successful project management.

Strive For Clarity of Purpose and Clarity of Communication

Clarity gives people the confidence that they know what they’re doing and why — and assures them that they’re doing the right work. It helps ensure that the whole team is pulling together, in the same direction.  And clear communication and shared purpose minimizes the negative effects of misunderstandings and miscommunications.

In short, clarity lays the groundwork for successful projects (and successful relationships).

So before you start project, you AND all your stakeholders should come to an agreement on:

  • A clear compelling “why” you are undertaking this initiative
  • Clear outcomes for the initiative (i.e. what success looks like)
  • A clear set of priorities for the organization (what you’re saying “yes” to)
  • Clear direction on what you and the organization need to say “no” to
  • Clear methods for communicating these priorities to the organization
  • Clear roles and responsibilities to drive accountability and results

Once you’ve laid a base of clarity and shared understanding, only then you can effectively enlist others in the vision.

Foster Engagement Throughout the Organization 

All the clarity in the world won’t help your project succeed if leaders, sponsors, team members and stakeholders aren’t fully engaged in the transformation process.

Projects succeed or fail based on people’s behaviors and willingness to adopt new changes.  Having a robust network of fully invested change champions helps imbue people at all levels of the organization with the will to transform.

You’ll need:

  • Engaged sponsors who understand what it takes to deliver the work
  • Engaged stakeholders who are ready to make tough decisions and support the team 
  • Engaged functional leaders who they understand the priority and can support their teams
  • Engaged team members who will focus on the highest priority work
  • Engaged organization where everyone understands how their work fits into the overall strategy

No matter how well planned your project…

No matter how cutting-edge your project management tools…

No matter how promising the organizational strategy… 

No matter how exciting the initiative…

…only strong relationships between leaders, stakeholders, team members, and sponsors will produce the level of engagement that can bring the project to a successful outcome.

Build Strong Relationships To Create Project Success

Therefore, it’s worth taking time and effort to deliberately cultivate respectful, open, and trusting relationships throughout the organization.

To do that, you’ll need to get to know people individually and to understand what they value, what they want, and what they need.

To that end, you should:

    • Spend time getting to know your team and stakeholders.
    • Know what is important in their lives.
    • Have a relationship where they can be open with you.
    • Routinely solicit feedback from the team.
    • Respond quickly to stakeholder questions and concerns.
    • Communicate using facts and examples so they can relate to the information.
    • Have an open door policy so your team and stakeholders can find you when needed.

Project management is really all about people management — and people management is really all about building relationships.

When you’ve taken time to foster relationships within your team and throughout the organization, you’ll know how to activate different stakeholders, get their buy-in, and generate the support and advocacy that every transformation requires for success.

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