The Project Manager wears many hats – the task delegator, the timeline magician, the email browser… and the elusive motivator. Everyone will agree that motivation is an essential element of the project’s success. However, how can you (the modest PM) motivate your team to bring a dash of extra elan to the project? Here are some tricks that might spark your inner life coach.


Know your role

You’re not the boss. You’re part of the team even if formally you are the boss. No one likes to work with a know-it-all on an ego trip. Finishing up a project is your accomplishment just like the accomplishment of any other member of the team.

Your developers and other team members need a leader they can trust. No one can trust a person that acts like they are above anyone else. If a project encounters difficulties (which it often will), you want your team to feel encouraged to share their concerns with you. Only once you’re aware of the problems can you work to begin solving them.


Know your team

Attempting to understand the technical discussions with your team can be nice, but a great PM will also understand the developers as individuals. Everyone is motivated differently and we all have preferences for how we like to communicate and even complete the work that is on our plate. By Project Managers getting to know their team better each day, they can help to keep spirits high and create inclusive communication amid all of the task coordination and delegation. At FarShore we are big fans of Skype emoticons as a way of communicating our demeanor across our worldwide offices. 


Lead by example

Your team will quickly see through all of your cheesy motivational phrases e.g. “I owe you big time pal!” or “you’re the best”. You’ll have to do more in order for your team to recognize you’re someone they’ll be happy to help. Make it clear your eyes are set on the same goal you want your team to work towards. 

How to radiate your motivation onto other team members? Well, making it clear that you care about the project is where you can start:

  • Tester: “Hi PM! Regarding the bug, we’re facing in PROD… we’re not able to reproduce it.”
  • PM: “Thank you Tester for the info! This is very concerning. The client says this issue is causing lots of trouble for them. Can I try to reproduce the issue from my computer? Should I ask clients for more details about the issue?

In the conversation above the tester sees that the PM is thinking about solutions and wants to help. For the tester this will seem more encouraging than a cold suggestion to simply try again.


You influence the team spirit. Since the PM is the one who coordinates, the motivation gets passed along with the ord… instructions. Show the team members you understand their role and that you appreciate what they do for the project: 

  • PM: “Hi Designer! The client would like to change the text on the home page from black to blue. Do you think that corresponds to the overall look?”
  • Designer: “That would look awful!”
  • PM: “How should I explain this to the client so she understands why the black font color is optimal?”
  • Designer: “Let me follow up on the email!”

Don’t worry! Eventually, the font color will be blue. But in the example above the designer had the chance to play his part in the team. As opposed to this scenario:

  • PM: “Hi Designer! Please change the text color on the home page to blue!”
  • Designer: “Hi PM! Which shade of blue?”
  • PM: “IDK, you’re the designer.”

Here the designer is reminded what his job is, but not in a way that makes him feel like a part of a bunch of people with the same objective. 


Seize the situation

Every occasion where the team is communicating is an opportunity to boost the team’s atmosphere. I know, it’s not easy to have a grip on daily emails, let alone think about how to forge your words in an optimal way, but it will come naturally with a little practice.

When the spirits are high (e.g. after a successful launch), it’s easy to keep the team motivated. Doing the same in hard times is when PM heroes emerge.

In stressful situations when there is tension for your team, the obvious approach is to point out the challenge in the situation:

  • PM:” Hi Developer! The tester discovered that the chocolate-chip and raisin records aren’t linked to any cookie field in the database.”
  • Developer: “He was testing the whole week, how did he discover it only now?!”
  • PM: “I made the database testing low priority. I’m to blame we’re in this hurry. Should I inform the client that there is no way a single developer can fix that before our deadline tomorrow and that we should postpone publishing the website?”
  • Developer: “Yes, there is no way it can be done by hand in such a short period.”
  • PM: “Should I ask a senior developer to create an automated import script?”
  • Developer: “I can write an automated script.”
  • PM: “Great!, please try! @Tester can you check if the raisins and chocolate chips are the only miss-matched records or are there more of them?”
  • Tester: “Sure PM, let me check!”

In the above case, the PM first diffused the tension between the tester and the developer by taking on the blame. Then he challenges the developer to try and fix the issue in time by offering him an opportunity to prove he can match the seniors. Finally, the tester is given an assignment so he can join the challenge of meeting the deadline.


Discover PM-ing talents in your team


Why not give your team members a chance to take on some of the responsibility? If you can afford to free your hands to your teammates, offer them the opportunity to make some decisions themselves. When someone is able to take responsibility for their actions, they will be extra motivated to make it absolutely right.

If you take up this PM-ing tactic, you have to be sure the person you authorize to make decisions is up to the task. Let’s look at a probable scenario:

  • Tester: “Hi PM! I have found the following issues in the application: #1… (the list goes on and on)”
  • PM: “Hi Tester! Thank you for conveying this to me. I’m particularly worried about issue #28… do you have any idea how that could be resolved by the developer?”
  • Tester: “for #28 we need to analyze the API endpoint and then… (it goes on and on)”
  • PM: “Ok Tester, can you inform the developer about the issue and explain to him your understanding of the solution?”
  • Tester: “Sure PM, I will explain to him what needs to be done here.”
  • PM: “While you’re at it, can you provide him the list of all the issues?”
  • Tester: “Sure!”
  • PM: “Great, let me know when the issues are resolved!”

The PM asked the tester to coordinate the bug fixes with the developer. This will spare the PM some work because they won’t need to go through the whole list and explain the issues to the developer, only to confirm as implied in the last reply.

This maneuver should be used carefully. If you work in a company with strictly defined processes, you won’t be allowed to do this in the first place. If you give extra responsibility to someone who is already overwhelmed with work, it will backfire in terms of motivating the individual. There are people who simply don’t feel comfortable when introduced to new challenges. In short, you need to be a true scout to discover new talents.


Be careful when evaluating someone’s work

Finally, let’s mention one of the oldest tricks in the book. 

As a PM, from time to time, you’ll need to provide feedback to your team about the quality of work they’re doing. When a project is completed, everyone is handed a kudos. However, things get tricky when you have to explain to someone that they’re not doing their job well enough. The golden rule is: Scold someone between the two of you, praise publicly.

Also, if you have to give negative feedback to someone’s work, the best approach is to keep it objective and constructive to avoid hard feelings as much as possible


Hopefully, this article will inspire some creative PM-ing that every project needs. See, motivating your team is motivating for you as well! If you don’t feel like making the extra effort, just send cat videos in the group chat. Works every time. At FarShore, project managers are a part of our core team for all clients, working with technical and nontechnical resources to ensure the project is successful. To learn more about our onboarding and project process at FarShore, send us a note.


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Janko Benger
Janko is the Project Management team lead at FarShore. He says that Project Management is just like riding a bicycle: it gets exciting once things start going downhill.

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