Issues, problems, crisis and challenges… they happen in every project – at least in the projects I have been involved in over the past 25 years.   Hey!  These things are normal!  And it is crucial to be able to keep a positive mindset when meeting an obstacle or challenge in a project.  This can take some practice, but the outcome is worth it.  In this article is a personal story about how an EPC project had gone wrong, and when all the engineers and other project managers backed out, my team and I came in to turn the tides.

Recently I had the opportunity to step into a project that had been ongoing for some time to troubleshoot and lead it into testing & successful commissioning. Everyone involved on the project was extremely experienced and qualified for the job.  The PM’s and other engineers were as  smart AND capable as myself (or even probably smarter) due to their extensive experience in terms of years and project experience.  But even with years of experience and a vast number of projects under their belts, they still could not manage this particular project. Either they resigned or would step back and say, ‘I don’t know what to do because the Client is so difficult, the processes so complicated and slow, not enough resources,’  or other various reasons as to why the project wouldn’t work.

I must admit that this particular project was not easy and I have had to face the same challenges that often tested my patience. However, when I took back to review the situation and see what I did differently to complete the works to the Client’s satisfaction all while commissioning the complete system for revenue operation, I found out that there were several things I did which made a huge difference.  As it turns out, keeping a positive attitude can have a massive impact on the end result of a project:

*  For one I believed that I could do it and that the team could do it. Yes, I experienced challenges, communication issues, no responses from some key people, heavy and sometimes emotionally-charged meetings with the Client, stubborn subcontractors, non performing team mates and so on, but despite all of that, I had a strong belief and enough faith to know that I could do it despite the project.  This is the key factor of the whole undertaking. With my positive belief that I could do it, my team believed that WE could do it and so we did it.  At one time the project may have seemed impossible, but since our collective belief was strong enough, it impacted the project outcome.  The simple yet powerful effect of belief is evident. 

*I kept a positive mindset throughout the project. It didn’t matter if we had technical problems interfacing between different sub-systems and with the interfacing between different sub-contractors, strange Client requirements which needed to be clarified, not available documentation, etc, the positive mindset helped me to approach everyone involved and to find solutions accepted by all. Part of this included NOT TAKING ANYTHING PERSONALLY.  A big part of Project Management can often be ego management.  We deal with people, and emotions tend to go up when time and money is involved.  When we have the ability to sit in a meeting and not be offended or take what is said personally, we can move mountains.  The impact of a positive mindset and the strong belief that I could do it convinced the Client and the Client’s Consultant that there was a person in the project who was seriously looking forward to make the project a success. With that, the Client was supportive to our ideas and proposals. This created a momentum of achievement and progress. I just continued to lead that and the momentum just went on.

*Another concept of a positive mindset I used was to remain ignorant of statements such as what I can’t dowhat doesn’t work etc. When I started in the project, of course I had to ask the project people how things were and, often they would relate the negative things in a negative tone.  Even so, it is important to approach the issues from a neutral point.  Think of these challenges like you would a rock.  A rock is not good or bad, it is what it is.  However, when it is on a road and is blocking cars, we can either complain about it or respond to it.  This is known as our respond-ability.  So even though every one was complaining about the rock, I saw it as it was (neutral) and simply responded to it.  

And furthermore, I am glad the people told me about all the negative things that were going on in the project!  It is important to acknowledge where you are currently so you can plan a definite path to take to your end goal.  This is the time when I received all the negative input, what is not possible, why things do not work and so on.  While it is important to know, it is also just as important to focus on solutions instead of what is going wrong.  

Moving forward I basically had to ignore the negative statements and began visualising what was required.  I also started brainstorming for possible solutions and I involved the team which was brand new for such an EPC project. We ignored statements like, “it is not possible, it has not been tried,” and “the Client will not accept it.”   Our focus was to come up with a target which was practical, achievable and reasonable for execution based on the resources available.  We then presented this to the Client in a simple manner so that they could understand the sequence of works in one meeting and make a decision to proceed promptly. And luckily for us we achieved that with a single powerpoint slide which presented a simple timeline with activities for one month in a work sequence acceptable for the Client.  Done!

Over the course of time we could go more into the details and come out with a complete one page integrated planning showing the completion of the project which is again a good guideline for all project stakeholders involved to move in the same direction based on common sense and understanding. It is not the big book and complex timeline from Primavera (planning tool) to create the solution. Sometimes, it is just a simple graphic and the positive mindset which makes the difference.

In summary, never underestimate the power of a positive mindset and the power of remaining neutral in stressful situations.  When we are positive and have a high level of respond-ability to challenges and obstacles in projects without getting emotionally charged, we can align much easier to solutions all while experiencing ease instead of stress.  Take up a course, or begin a daily positive mindset ritual.  Make it a team practice (if they are open to it) because you never know when it can come in handy for project management!

Peter Wyss is an expert on: Railway Projects, System Integration, Renewable Energy Projects, Project Management, Scrum Master, Agile Project Management, Risk Management, Rescue Troubled Projects, Contract Management, Project Consulting, Project Management Office, Project Management Training, Project Assessments, EPC(M) Projects, Program Management, Project Management Coaching, Virtual team management in Global projects. You can find him at his website and Linkedin.