Managing projects is stressful. But it’s even more stressful when you’re stubbornly holding on to accomplishing the plans you’ve created once they become obsolete.

Picture the difference between a motor boat and a sea liner. Which one of them can turn around quicker? If you realize you need to adjust course, it would be preferable to be in the motor boat than in a sea liner so that you can make the changes as soon as possible. C.S. Lewis illustrated this concept perfectly (albeit in a different context): 

“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

In fact, this type of flexibility is exactly why startups and small businesses get a competitive advantage over big companies - because they’re a lot swifter when it comes to making changes and adjusting course.  

Why do you need to adjust course when you manage projects?

When you’re a project manager, you might need to change your plans for a number of different reasons:

  • external circumstances: a contractor falls through or a team member unexpectedly needs time off.
  • new knowledge: at the beginning of a project, you know less than you’ll ever know. As you find out new things, you will, or at least should, change your plans accordingly.
  • bad estimates: studies show that even when we know we’ve been overly optimistic about our estimates in the past, we insist that our current predictions are realistic. Overall, most of us suck at planning.

Building resiliency as a project manager means that even when you’re hit with a major turn of events, you’ll still have the lucidity to take the best decisions given the circumstances, instead of completely freaking out. So what are some attitudes you can take on that will improve how you deal with changes to your plans? 

Change is inevitable 

[Tweet "“Change is the only constant in life.” ~Heraclitus "]

If there’s one thing you can be sure about, it’s that your plans will change. 

The sooner you come to terms with this truth, the easier it will be to deal with change once it happens. 

Fighting change is a waste of time

The dynamics of your team will change. The scope of your project will change. There’s not much you can do about it. You might be able to delay it for a while, but what’s the point if it’s inevitable anyway? Instead of fighting it, see how you might be able to make the most of it.

Change brings opportunities

Ever notice how change brings new options and opportunities once you let go of your initial plans? In fact, these new opportunities can often place you in a position of advantage that you couldn’t have had before. Learn to recognize the positive outcomes that become possible as a result of your changes.  

You can adjust to unexpected changes

Know that adapting to unexpected changes is something you’ve probably been doing all your life - whether you’ve been aware of it or not. Unless you have a detailed outline of every step of your life (in which case, let me know where you got it from), you have been adjusting to one kind of change or another your whole life.  

Of course, it’s never easy to let go of your plans. But as a project manager, keep in mind that your reactions will affect how your team perceives the changes too. If your body language or verbal communication hints that you consider the change to be a negative one, it will most probably affect your team’s productivity and morale.

Sometimes you might have to really understand why you’re negatively reacting to change and give yourself a good pep talk before you face your team. In the end, being flexible and open to change will show the right example to your team and will also set them up for success. 

Do you have any stories of when an unexpected change opened up opportunities for you and your team? Share them with us in the comment section.