Project ManagementThe Rules of the Project Management Game

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We being our lives following some basic rules. Rules like “look both ways before you cross the street” and “don’t run with scissors” kept us safe long enough to grow into responsible adults. The rules of games like baseball and monopoly were followed so everyone had the same chance to win.

Rules in business are built on a similar principle, setting explicit regulations governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere. A clear set of business rules will do wonders for an organization. If guidelines are simple to follow, you’ll be able to run a tight ship.

Of course, we know you must crawl before you can run and you must first develop strong, practical rules first. As a leader in Project Management, I have lived through many successful, and not-so-successful, exercises in building rules and communicating rules.

Through lessons learned, I’ve fine-tuned the process and have broken it down to three buckets:

  1. Decision Making
  2. Team Input
  3. Communicating Rules


Arguing about decisions can take up a substantial amount of time and slow down the final deliverable. The fastest way to move projects along is to make decisions by the majority with the Project Team Leader having the final say when there is a tie.

There is a quick and easy way to use consensus to make decisions by giving people a three-way vote:

  • Agree (thumbs up)
  • Disagree (thumbs down),
  • Don’t agree, but can live with the decision of the majority (thumbs sideways).

The project team may continue to develop alternatives in ten-minute intervals until every team member is thumbs up or thumbs sideways. After a few rounds of brainstorming alternative solutions, majority rules with the Project Team Leader stepping in as the tie breaker.


Everyone is a valuable member of the team, no matter what their work style and comfort level. Some people are game-winning pitchers while others make their mark in the outfield. Remember, there is no “I” in “team.”

Give credit when credit is due, build trust and encourage all types of participation.

Confidentiality — Who shares information with the customer and the project sponsor?

  • Some people feel free discussing anything with everyone whereas others feel this behavior is a breech of trust. The Project Team Members need to establish upfront what level of confidentiality is appropriate for this team and with which audiences.

Attribution — How is credit given for new ideas and suggestions?

  • The Project Team Members need to understand that people have different needs for recognition. Some feel comfortable tooting their own horn while others prefer to be quietly acknowledged for their work. As a team, establish how everyone will talk to each other about their accomplishments.

Participation — How do team members encourage everyone on the team to participate?

  • Some team members are passive during team meetings and daily interactions while others are more assertive and take charge. One way to get an even amount of participation is to allow each team member to have five minutes to discuss his or her issues during each team meeting.

Acceptance — What is the context for expressing divergent opinions?

  • Different opinions may stimulate thinking that will ultimately solve issues. Other times the conflicting opinions slow down or derail a project. The project team members need to decide when it is acceptable to have free wheeling discussions and divergent opinions and when it’s time to rally together and keep the project moving.


Great communication tactics and skills will lead a team to victory. Negative communication will derail a project and leave a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.

Conflict Resolution — What level of disclosure is necessary?

  • Team members should try to solve problems that are within their circle of influence without burdening the other team members, project sponsor, or customer. The exception is if the problem is of significant magnitude and impacts the performance of another team member.
  • On the flip side, the Project Team Leader, needs to decide what type of “problem” should be disclosed to the team, how it should be reported to the team and the type of data that needs to be collected to describe problems.

Feedback — How will you give helpful feedback? What behaviors will you exhibit to show you are listening to and trying to understand your teammates’ point of view?

  • One of the primary rules of feedback is to not give it unless requested. Giving someone unsolicited feedback to correct what is considered a “problem” negates the other person and hurts the relationship.
  • The other typical rule is that all feedback needs to be positive. If the feedback cannot be provided in positive, constructive terms, it should not be said until it is requested and can be framed constructively.
  • The last important rule is to avoid using a positive statement followed by the word “but.” The discussion should focus on how to fix the system, rather than fixing the person.

Acceptable topics for discussion (lead by example)

As with problem disclosure, and feedback, people have different tolerance levels for acceptable discussion topics. While it is common for project team members to become friends, having to listen to daily personal “issues” can get to be quite distracting, even if those issues are positive — like a new baby, planning for a wedding, or any other issue that people get obsessive about.

In this realm, one of the easiest ways to state what is acceptable is to say that personal issues are kept “personal.”

Benefits of Well Constructed Guidelines

People feel good when they are able to achieve goals. Clear and obtainable rules empower employees to meet and exceed expectations, build confidence, keep the business on track and contribute to an overall positive work experience.

Whether you are keeping your team safe from distraction or trying to gain some sanity, establishing rules and a decision making process keeps work streamlined, teams focused and unwanted political power-plays away from your backyard.

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast. She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses. A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought leader, Michelle was previously recognized by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

Michelle’s articles have appeared in over 100 publications and web sites around the world. You can check out her monthly column, the Know How Network, as well as her weekly radio program, Your World Your Way that is an inspiring and practical look at how Project Management fuels success.

She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Manager’s (OPM) program and also holds engineering degrees from Syracuse University and the University of Dayton. She lives in Nevada with her family and likes to rejuvenate in Alaska where you’ll often find her kayaking, hiking, and riding her motorcycle.

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