Learning to Say Yes to the Right Projects

Feb 05, 2019

Learning to Say Yes to the Right Projects

I often ask in my presentations on project management a question of the audience; “How many of you get to choose the projects that you manage?”

It is a trick question of course because project managers, typically, do not get to choose. I know that, you know that, and they know that. Instead, they must accept what is given to them. The audience usually has a collective smile of wistfulness when I do ask the question, but it doesn’t last long as we all come back down to earth quickly with the realisation that life, for a project manager, will not change in the foreseeable future with regards to such choice.

If they did have such a choice, I am sure they would consider making many changes before committing themselves to another project lifecycle. As it is, managers quietly accept the next opportunity, shrug their shoulders, and start to lead their newly formed team on toward project goals.

For internal projects, this is a challenge since there will have been weeks, months perhaps, of expectation setting that took place long before the project manager became “The Project Manager.” Ownership is decided, sometimes on a whim it seems, by others who do not end up with the responsibility of successful project delivery. Despite all of what went before – meetings, calls, conversations, reports, analysis, discussions, agreements and a final statement of intent and commitment – it somehow becomes the project manager’s fault if it all goes wrong.


But when this occurs in the commercial world of client-facing projects, then this issue really becomes a problem.

Finding the Right Approach to Projects

There are some good words of wisdom to be found in the eBook published by Mavenlink entitled, “The 10 Most Common Project Management Mistakes: And how to avoid them.”

Here’s one of them for you to ponder; agreeing to projects you can’t deliver on:

“Every professional services organisation, despite how broad of a skill set their individuals have, has a core competency. As a firm delivers great work, they build trust with their clients, and clients increase spending and project scopes. This is great, organic growth. However, firms often eagerly accept new projects without considering their ability to deliver on these projects. They don’t have the right people, or they don’t have enough capacity within their team to meet the deadlines. When a project does not meet client expectations, project managers spend a lot of time—and money—trying to make things right.”

So in this instance, saying “yes” to the right projects is all about saying “yes” (with a happy heart and a keen sense of excitement hopefully) to projects that, while being different, are within your core scope of experience and competency.

But, of course, life doesn’t make it that simple. You need to expand your knowledge capability and go with the work opportunities, and this brings about a degree of increased risk.

Don’t treat all projects as the same. They aren’t and the faster you accept this and learn to consider, evaluate, plan accordingly, and prepare, the more likely you will be to succeed. Therefore, saying “yes” is OK as long as you know what you are saying “yes” to.

Returning to how you can learn to secure the right projects then consider a possible answer in two parts.

Part 1: Secure the Right Projects

Start by knowing what the “wrong” projects look like and be prepared to either:

  1. Reject them, if that is in any way within your powers
  2. Understand their ‘wrongness” in regards to the risks they might present to you

A mature project organisation will profile their potential projects, risk assess them at the holistic level, and ensure the right project manager is appointed with the appropriate level of experience to deal with each project.

Part 2: Be Prepared

Secondly, always invest in yourself in order to be ready for the “wrong” project, through your personal skills, your network of support, mentors and guides, team members, and community. Organisations must equally address this through supporting communities of practice, providing education, and offering mentorship programs.

Creating a Path to Project Success

These two parts will help you understand which projects are “right” and which are “wrong,” as well as the collective wisdom to succeed.

The advantage is that you will support the organizations you work for and allow them to expand their skill sets to meet all of those “new” and “difficult” client demands. This, in turn, allows your organisation to secure new projects (work) that deliver growth and opportunity, which creates personal growth and opportunity (reward and satisfaction).

It really is a win-win for everyone involved.

Avoid Your Project Management Mistakes

The most common project management challenges and their solutions can be found in The 10 Most Common PM Mistakes.

Want to enjoy more great content?Get the best from Mavenlink in a weekly digest.
Next up in Strategy