I've long been told that when stakeholder conflict arises, the project management office (PMO) must remain neutral. But when cross-departmental stakeholders are involved, disagreements are unavoidable, and PMOs must step up to resolve disputes—or risk losing respect from everyone in the organization.
To manage strained relationships, PMOs should listen to all stakeholders and resolve conflicts with project goals in mind.
BY ABID MUSTAFA
IT'S NOT THERAPY
To deal with difficult stakeholders, PMO staff members often manage moods, calm nerves or make people happy. But doing so doesn't manage the interest of the aggrieved party in relation to projects’ goals.
For instance, not confronting a popular project manager for misleading status reports may make the PMO well liked by project practitioners, but in the long run, such a stance damages both the project and the PMO's credibility. Likewise, aggressively reprimanding a weak line manager for not sharing a resource just to please an important stakeholder may result in a temporary hike in the PMO's popularity barometer, but the damage done to the professionalism of the PMO could be irreparable.
Instead, when managing stressed relationships, PMOs must find solutions aligned with projects’ goals. Often this means that PMO staffers must go beyond the routinely laborious task of understanding metrics and updates on project progress.
The PMO must abandon any policy of neutrality and use engaging stakeholder management practices. To start, the PMO should ask problematic business owners, senior managers or line managers their motives and interests. During a conflict, people are more apt to compromise when they feel as though their issues are being heard.
The manager stingy with resources, for example, may be experiencing executive pressure to keep departmental costs low. PMO leaders must communicate to the manager that resourcing decisions are rooted in project goals, not in expediency or hidden agendas. By using project metrics such as ROI, the PMO can show the manager that these resources will allow the organization to improve the bottom line.
Aligning resolutions with project goals doesn't guarantee the PMO will make everyone happy. But such a mindset helps the PMO take a firm stand in the best interest of the project. And when the PMO manages the interests of concerned parties in line with the project goals, the PMO staff members may not be liked, but they will certainly receive the respect they deserve. PM
Abid Mustafa is a director of corporate programs for du Telecom, a telecom operator and PMI Global Executive Council member in the United Arab Emirates. He is the author of In the Age of Turbulence: How to Make Executive PMOs Successful, available in both paperback and Kindle formats.
JANUARY 2014 PM NETWORK