Dear Elizabeth:

I’m managing a project that has come to a screeching halt as the stakeholders argue over some new features we may or may not add. There’s other work for the team to do, but not a lot. In the meantime, how do I keep my team motivated and also ready to jump back in when we get the green light?

–Sweating it out in Seattle

Dear Sweating:

Ah, the joys of working with stakeholders who are in conflict! It’s common knowledge that project teams work best when they know why they’re doing their work and understand how it links to a bigger picture. Work is more rewarding that way. If the stakeholders don’t even know what they want then it’s hard to see how your contribution is making a difference to any strategic goal.

Be honest with your team. They’ll find out the real reasons for the delay anyway, so there’s no sense in hiding it from them. Ask their advice about priority tasks for the meantime. Try to get involved in the conflict resolution, perhaps through designing mockups or facilitating workshops.

Let them work on other initiatives if they have time, but keep a regular project management structure where you are still meeting them regularly and updating them. Flag the resource issue to your stakeholders and point out that you can’t keep the resources indefinitely. A delay in clarifying requirements could mean an even greater delay to the project when the decision is made, as at that point your team members could be off working on other things and you might not be able to get them back.

These slower workload times are great opportunities for training and professional development. Start asking: What courses could your team members do? Could they work shadow or self-study if money is tight? Try to frame this slow period as a fantastic opportunity to polish the deliverables they have already produced and line up for a running start on the next set once the decision is made. Research those new tools they’ve been talking about and get a head start on your 2017 strategic planning. This is your team’s chance to get involved in tasks that they’ve not been able to work on before!

Every month, project management expert, Elizabeth Harrin, fields readers’ questions about the challenges, risks, and rewards of project work on the LiquidPlanner blog. This selection is used with permission.


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