Building and maintaining a good working relationship with the project manager

The BA’s relationship with the project manager has been much discussed. I’d like to share my views on some of the critical components of a good relationship, drawing on my experiences, some of which have been learnt the hard way!

Starting out

When you first start on a project, it is important to focus on who you are working with as much as what the business is trying to achieve.

If you can build trust and confidence with the sponsor and the project manager, this will bear fruit throughout the project.

So, how do you build that trust? It’s important to understand the project manager’s mindset before we consider this…

Inside the mind of a project manager

It turns out, project managers are just like us! They want to do well in their job, they probably don’t want too many difficulties and want to be succesful.

The difference is in what matters for them in a project. They are focussed on having a plan, demonstrating progress and knocking down issues that are stopping progress. Nothing too contentious so far.

I was mentoring a colleague who was focussed on the PM/BA relationship and had a mission to start talking to project managers using the right language. His concern was that business analysts are focussed on understanding problems and so are focussed on the issues. Sometimes this can come across as negative.

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Project managers (and people in general) respond better to positive messages. Alison Ledgerwood explore this idea and the adverse impact of negative messages in this TEDx video.

Ariel Halevi explores the power of positive framing in this video.

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So, one of the takeaways is for BAs to consider how to express themselves.

 

Some examples

Consider these examples:

 

I will set up a meeting OR… I have set up a meeting

I have 10% left to do OR… I am 90% complete OR This will be complete by Monday

I disagree OR… I’d like to look at this from another perspective.

I don’t know OR… Paul is my specialist in this area. I’ll check with him.

The project plan is wrong OR… I don’t fully understand the plan and it’s important so I can ensure our success. Can we talk through it?

 

This is quite a big topic but the key things to consider when communicating with your project manager are:

– how can I turn this into a positive statement?

– how do I show that I will own this issue?

– am I showing progress towards solving an issue?

 

Ultimately, a good business analyst will always be looking to instill confidence. If your project manager is confident in you, you will have already built trust and this will help your relationship and, ultimately, your success.

 

Always be on the front foot

We mentioned the need to own the issue. In my experience, an effective business analyst will:

  • identify the issue
  • consider how to solve it
  • have a plan that will solve the issue

This is what I mean when I say be on the front foot. It is very important that you get to the last step quickly so that you communicate this to your project manager, instil confidence and gain their support.

I have not always been on the front foot and that causes a problem with the project manager. In a past project, the project had a difficult start for a variety of reasons but the key reason was that although the desired outcome was clear (reduce the level of credit card fraud), it was not clear how this was going to be achieved. There was also some disruption because senior stakeholders were hoping to use the project to deliver some other unrelated improvements to the online credit card servicing channel.

I ran an initial workshop which was only partially successful because some of the key issues about the scope of the project had not been addressed. There was a loss of confidence because of this issue at which point the project manager started to get involved to fix this problem.

This started to happen because I wasn’t on the front foot with a plan that highlighted the problems and how they should be addressed.

The project manager continued to own the problem which made it difficult to build trust and a strong working relationship as the project manager was making the decisions without my involvement.

So this where I recognised the critical importance of creating a strategy for tackling your business analysis work…

 

Document your BA strategy and report progress

Document your approach to the business analysis work to explain:

  • key principles and assumptions that informed your plan
  • your approach
  • the major milestones and activities
  • any risks and how you will mitigate them

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For most projects, this should only take up a few pages to describe this and it is often possible in a few slides on a presentation.

It is important to give your project manager an opportunity to question your principles and assumptions so they ‘buy in’ and you get the benefit of their opinion to adapt your approach if needed.

This is all part of building trust and credibility.

Once you have a plan that the project manager has agreed, you can start tracking progress against this and report progress.

 

Build trust through reporting on your progress

Consider every interaction with you PM as an opportunity to build more trust and credibility.

You should be reporting on your progress and every time you should consider the following:

  • are things going well? have we achieved any milestones or resolved difficult issues? If so, shout about them!
  • do you have any issues? If so, what are you doing to resolve them? Demonstrate you are in control and build that confidence. If you need help, be very clear what you need and ask for it promptly
  • are you on track? What are the risks and what are you doing about them? Again, be very clear on the risks and your plans to mitigate. Avoid any nasty surprises! If a stakeholder is not coming to meetings, report on this and speak to the stakeholder to address the issue asap

 

 Your PM relationship checklist

So, here is a summary of what you need to do to build a great relationship with your PM:

  • keep looking for opportunities to instil confidence
  • think about framing and use of language that shows progress, ownership and is positive
  • be on the front foot by talking about issues only when you have a plan
  • create a strategy for your business analysis work that includes your assumptions, the approach, major milestones and any risks/mitigations
  • report your progress on a regular basis and take the opportunity to highight your successes and how you are in control of any issues

 

What do you do to create amazing working relationships with your project manager? Let me know of your examples

 

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About Alex Papworth

5 Responses to “Building and maintaining a good working relationship with the project manager”

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  1. Steve Markham says:

    Some great observations and tips in here!

  2. virinder says:

    thank you Alex — a very good foundation article for those new to business analysis practise – and a nice refresher to the veterans.

  3. Anna says:

    Great article Alex! Sharing it with my business analyst group in VK.com

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