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10 tips for project success: stay positive

No matter how well you do the right things at the right time, the truth is, a project tragedy is always just around the corner. At some point your project is likely to hit an iceberg – something which started out as seemingly innocuous will threaten to sink the entire project. A disaster like this can very quickly undo all your previous hard work and have a huge timeline and budget implication.

But how you deal with the project, with your team and the client, especially at the time disaster strikes sets the course for ensuring the project’s ongoing success. Former US President, Theodore Roosevelt famously said; ‘Believe you can and you’re halfway there.’ So how can we be positive, stay positive and be infectious in our positivity to focus on what’s possible and drive the team to success?

Be confident (and realistic)

You’ve got to start by being confident in your team and your plan. If you, as the project manager don’t really believe in your plan, or that the project can succeed, you need to change the plan! Creating the right conditions for positivity to breed is important but it will only thrive in an environment where realistic foundations have been set. As the project manager, you need to be an example to the team for positivity, don’t complain or sow the seeds of doubt, be the believer.

Choose to hope

British clergyman G. Campbell Morgan told the story of a man whose shop had been burned in the great Chicago fire of 1871. The man arrived at the ruins the next morning carrying a table. He set up a table in the midst of the charred debris, and above it placed a sign that said, “Everything lost except wife, children, and hope. Business will be resumed as usual tomorrow morning.”

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He made a choice to have hope. He believed that things would get better. He made things better. Choosing to be hopeful isn’t the same as being unrealistic or optimistic. Optimism can be a misplaced belief that things will get better whereas hope is the faith that, together, we can make things better; it’s active and courageous. As project managers we need to rally and unify our teams into a tenacious, courageous and relentless pursuit of making things better together. It’s a team effort.

Change your thinking

We tend to experience what we expect; if a project team is excitedly anticipating a new project when they start working on it the positivity will continue to flow. The inverse is also true. Norman Cousins says, “The main trouble with despair is that it is self-fulfilling. People who fear the worst tend to invite it. Heads that are down can’t scan the horizon for new openings. Bursts of energy do not spring from a spirit of defeat. Ultimately, helplessness leads to hopelessness.”

If your team’s perspectives are negative or their enthusiasm has dwindled and moaning and excused start to show, you’ll end up experiencing a lot of negatives. And those negatives are compounded and become especially painful, because negative expectations cause people not to learn from their mistakes and begin to give up.

So it’s important to start right, start with positivity and when you do encounter negative thinking, to deal with it. But it’s possible too, to change a negative mind-set, to a positive mind-set, in which you together believe things can get better, learn from your mistakes, and never quit. It starts with a determination every day to try to renew your hope, change your thinking for the better, and believe that good things can and will happen.

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Win small and celebrate

If you are able to tap into your hope and become more positive in your thinking, that’s a great start. But it’s not enough. Positive thinking must be followed by positive doing. If you want to succeed big, then start by trying for a small victory. Nothing encourages hope like success.

If your team senses defeat they give as little as possible, look for excuses, they become tired, forsake the game plan and hurt others. But if you are able to win small victories, it encourages you. It raises your morale. When you experience a win once, you begin to understand how it works. You get better at succeeding, and after winning several victories you begin to sense that bigger victories are nearly within your grasp.

So as a project manager it’s your responsibility to find some small victories. They could be anything. Ask your team to start of meetings with their ‘goodies’ – what’s good news? There’s always something to celebrate, and it doesn’t have to be project related. Even if it’s as mundane as finding a great new donut shop, use it as a catalyst to change the conversation to be positive.

If you’re able to create a positive project environment where the team is constantly sharing their positive experiences it helps to drive the team to keep hoping, keep trying, and keep learning. When your team begins to sense victory they will sacrifice to succeed, they’ll look for ways to win, they’ll be energized, follow the plan and help each other.

About Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and VP of Client Services at FCV, a full service digital agency in Vancouver, Canada. I've been in the industry for more than 10 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS’, flash games to banner ads and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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