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How do you keep a project team going in that situation? Results Without Authority: Controlling a Project When the Team Doesn’t Report to You (2nd Edition), explains how. He writes:
As the leader of your project, you must assume control, whether or not you possess organisational authority. As unlikely as it may sometimes seem, any project leader can do much to establish and maintain control.
The book looks at how you can maintain control of a project through process, influence and metrics. The second part of the book looks at the project management lifecycle and how you can use process, influence and metrics to your advantage during the project.
Control through process
“It doesn’t matter a great deal what specific processes you adopt,” he writes, “as long as they make good business sense, have meaningful support from your team and stakeholders, and are actually used.”
This is the sort of advice that I find helpful. There is no slavish following of methodology, or talk about what should happen. It’s a book for project managers in the messy real world, with helpful hints like how to motivate your team for free.
He also talks about using the project plan as a control tool because they depend on the organisational culture behind the tasks, not just your personal clout in the project environment.
Control through communication
Several sections of the book talk about how good communications can be a way you can exert your influence over the project. After all, most of the communication and status updates will go through you, so you have a key role to play in controlling the flow of information. “To a great extent, what you say and how you say it will determine how you are perceived as a leader, particularly by your managers and peers,” Kendrick writes.
Communications are two-way, and you also have the power of questions at your fingertips. As it’s unlikely that you can say no outright, you can use questions to your advantage. Be diplomatic, and use questions to check assumptions, assert the problem that you are trying to solve, establish risks, confirm success criteria and generally confirm that the project team is doing the right thing.
Kendrick, who looks remarkably like Seamus Heaney, is full of good ideas. The last book of his I read was written in the same dense style: there are ideas falling off the page, many more than you would need on any one project. Here’s a tip I picked up from the book: avoid negotiating with your sponsor; she is probably better at it than you are. I like the way he writes, because I like practical books that help project managers do things differently, and better.