Listening – A vital skill in any situation…

Many years ago, a business unit leader asked the Badger to review a project delivering a small but important system to a Space sector client. The unit leader was receiving frequent escalations from the client who felt the project manager (PM) was unsuitable and delivery was going to be late. From the unit leader’s perspective, the PM was doing a good job, progress was on track, and finances were healthy. The PM had previously delivered similar projects successfully. The unit leader wasn’t therefore unduly concerned but asked the Badger for an independent delivery practitioner’s opinion as a tactic to ease client concern.

The Badger called the PM to arrange the swift review. On the phone the PM was helpful, upbeat, and confident that all was well, but there was something about the call dynamics that made the Badger’s nose twitch! The review subsequently commenced with a face to face kick-off meeting at which the PM was in transmit-only mode, waxing lyrical about having exemplary processes, tools, and records that proved concerns were unfounded. The Badger’s nose twitched even more!

The review’s findings? Well, the project had an exemplary trail of documents with all the fully approved baseline, foundation and plan documents you’d expect plus full traceability to the contract. It reported comprehensively and on time internally and to the client and had a good suite of tools to track progress against plan, finances and produce forecasts. The project had everything required to comply with the contract and internal company standards. This was a model project, at least administratively!

However, what was wrong was clear from talking with team members and the client. The PM was an exceptional administrator, but a poor manager and leader. One team leader put it vitriolically as ‘He’s a process junky. He doesn’t listen to anything I tell him. He just processes the data he’s told me to provide to get the answer he wants’. The PM wasn’t listening to his team or assessing any risks and threats to progress. The team was becoming alienated, and the client was escalating because they could see the tensions.

The Badger reported this and some recommendations to the unit leader, highlighting particularly that the PM wasn’t listening to his team, that progress metrics were thus unreliable, and that delivery would be late. The unit leader seemed reluctant to accept this and did not take any action. Two months later system delivery was delayed 6 months, the project moved into loss, the project manager was replaced, and the business unit leader was moved from his role!

And the Badger’s message is? Simple. Listening is a crucial skill. Listening objectively is key to making good decisions and shaping the right outcomes. It’s an essential and vital skill for anyone in any kind of managerial or leadership position at any level – but be aware…not everyone has it!

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