Project Managers – Learn to be Proactive Not Reactive

Project Management Software

Project managers can have different approaches to supervise their team and get their work done. Some of them tend to be extremely crude and reactive. However, some believe in handling the situation differently by giving a reasonable solution. That’s what we are here to talk about – the reactive approach vs. the proactive approach to project management.

Here’s a scenario that will help you understand the two concepts better.

You give your marketing team a task to make your website SEO-friendly in a week. Rather than creating a strategy to get the work done effectively, the team immediately starts to work on the task at hand to meet the deadline. Of course, the website was a disaster.
Now, how project managers should react to such a situation?

Do they:

  1. Take their anger out and fire the entire team, or
  2. Make the team understand the importance of having a strategy and working efficiently

Option 2, right?

In theory,

All project managers should be taking a proactive approach to manage their tasks, budgets and schedules.

A proactive approach is the natural consequence of planning and preparing for every eventuality. It also includes predicting risks and devising solutions to mitigate those risks. Standard fare for project managers, right?

A reactive approach, on the other hand, is often a poorly planned response to problems that were not anticipated. In some cases, the approach can also be an inadequate response because constraints prevent an effective solution from being implemented.

In the real world,

how can you manage projects in a more proactive style by mitigating risks and grasping opportunities? And how can you avoid critical situations that are out of control?

Realities of Project Management Environment

project management environment

A milestone is approaching on an already tight schedule and a dependent task hasn't been started yet because the specifications are incomplete. What’s more, the client delivers a vital change request. Just another day at the office…

How do you react? Rush through modifications to the project specs? Agree under pressure to the change without a full review of its implications? Is this sort of fire-fighting common in your project environment?

This type of reactive approach is inefficient. It puts you under pressure to respond to each problem without the time to assess the impact on the whole project. Not the least, it creates a stressful workplace which can lead to expensive mistakes and is not conducive for successful delivery of a project.

A reactive approach doesn't look at the long-term effects of any decision, but is only aimed at solving an immediate problem. It is likely to lead to:

  • Overspending
  • Under-estimating schedules
  • Agreeing to unnecessary changes
  • Missing opportunities by not looking at the long-term picture

Reacting to a crisis is so often the norm when managing projects.  Yet project management places great importance on creating a project plan so it should be the profession leading the way in a proactive style of working. A good plan should help you avoid a reactive approach.

Recommended Read: How Do You Ensure You Meet Your Project Deadlines

Risks Don't Have To be Negative

Project risk management

Problems are not always negative issues – they can present opportunities as well. Many senior executives associated the word risk with a negative connotation. However, experienced project managers know that a risk perceived to be a threat can sometimes present an opportunity.

For instance, a risk could highlight improvements that could give an organisation a competitive edge or improve internal processes.

For example, an experienced team member resigns from the company posing a risk of loss of domain specific knowledge. However, it also presents an opportunity to preserve that knowledge by implementing a training program. This could mitigate the risk when other experienced project professionals leave the organization in the future.

Try ProProfs Project & Resolve Project Risks >>

How To Become More Proactive

proactive project managers

In order to become more proactive, project managers must plan and prepare for all eventualities; and they need to do this throughout their project lifecycle. Using a simple project management software can help them see all the tasks that need to completed to reach the project goal efficiently.

Without the use of a tool like this, it becomes all too easy to settle into a comfortable routine without considering potential problems that could occur during an ongoing project.

Of course, not all problems can be anticipated and even those that might not be resolved by the planned solution. But that doesn't mean you should react under pressure without due thought processing, planning and preparation.

The proactive approach to a mistake is to acknowledge it instantly, correct and learn from it.
                                                                                                                                 Stephen Covey

Time is the most effective weapon in the fight against being reactive. If you have enough time built into your schedule, then it is easy to plan ahead and consider potential solutions instead of being pressured to make a quick decision.

Another effective weapon is the proper prioritization of tasks. When priorities are well-understood then it becomes a relatively simple step to move resources away from low priority tasks to high priority tasks.

By becoming a project manager with a more proactive approach you will have greater control over the path your projects take. You will be more efficient and ultimately deliver more successful projects.

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About the author

Paul Naybour

Paul Naybour is Business Development Director at Parallel Project Training. He is a well-known speaker in the APM Branch Network and a Project Management Training Consultant, working for Parallel Project Training.

1 Comment

  • P Durrant

    Great article Paul – you are so right that project managers should be leading the way in working proactively. We have all the tools and accumulated knowledge of decades to help us learn lessons from previous failed projects.

    Unfortunately projects, all too often, have tight timescales that don’t allow enough time for proper planning or for building contingency into the schedule to deal with events that weren’t anticipated. Yet we all know those unexpected events almost always happen. Hopefully frank discussions like this will help avoid those reactive situations that don’t help anyone: clients, users or project managers.

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