Project Management Institute

Facing fears

MANAGING | Relationships

When tasked with a project in an unfamiliar industry, remember that you don't have to go it alone.


It's almost a requirement of every project manager to boldly go into new territory. Recently, it was my turn to fulfill this requirement. As scary as it can be to journey into uncharted waters, I learned that knowing whom to petition for help and resources can ensure smooth sailing.

A senior sponsor asked me to establish a dialogue between two IT teams about viable strategies for the global implementation of a software system that respected the organization's current IT infrastructure. The outcome of this dialogue was critical to a program that I'm responsible for. The challenge was my knowledge is largely in data integrity, legal data storage requirements, speed and performance from an experienced user perspective. I voiced my concerns to the senior sponsor, who nevertheless tasked me with the responsibility. But I knew I needed help. I called a meeting with 10 very technical, experienced individuals (to add some authority to the request, I used the sponsor's name).


Though I dreaded this meeting, it soon became an animated dialogue between the experts and me. I asked for help on everything from clarifying acronyms to explaining new terms. At the end of the meeting, I confirmed with the experts what I'd summarized from the day and scheduled a subsequent session to conclude findings. I was appreciative when everyone turned up to the follow-up session, on time, with more opinions, research and suggestions.

By being honest about my lack of knowledge about IT infrastructure, I had provided these individuals full permission to contribute, challenge and advise me to ensure my understanding before writing a recommendation and influencing a sponsor decision. The sponsor was extremely pleased with the progress and eventual outcome, and so was I. Even though I initially resisted the task, following through with it meant everyone gained something from the experience. I learned the sponsor has confidence in me. I got to know a completely new group of people with skills vastly different from my own that I can go to for help and guidance. The group members learned from one another, appreciating the opportunity to collaborate and engage in problem resolution.

As project managers, we have to communicate with people across a multitude of disciplines. Not only does it give us the opportunity to garner multiple contributions and put them toward the project goal, but this communication also encourages our own professional progress while growing our network. In this case, my acting as a facilitator for these meetings between IT teams—rather than project lead—not only fostered dialogue and cooperation between the two teams, it also expanded my own knowledge, network and range of skills, and taught me again about the benefits of honesty and seeking help.

Most significantly, we delivered a collaborative, comprehensive report to fulfill the sponsor requirement. When another opportunity comes to work with this particular group, I'll be the first to volunteer. PM



Sheilina Somani, RPP, FAPM, PMP, is the owner of the U.K.-based consultancy Positively Project Management, a senior project manager, a speaker and a mentor.

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