The Six Emotional Phases of Project Management

Project Management
Telford Burtts Telford Burtts
09/03/20

It always surprises me, no matter the project, the mixed bag of emotions I feel from start to finish. At any given moment, the project environment can change and my biggest strategy for managing change is managing my emotional awareness. Experience has taught me to lean into my feelings. If I’m feeling nervous, I allow myself to experience the nervousness, question it and share it with my team. 

I wrote this post for my fellow project managers, product owners, scrum masters and teams. I hope you find these phases relatable and encouraging.

😟 Phase 1: Anxiety

When I hear, “We have won the project and we want you to be the PM,” anxiety sets in. My mind starts racing, my heart beats a little faster and my palms start to sweat. It feels like someone pushed the “go” button and questions flood my mind: 

  • Who is my team? 
  • Who is the product owner?
  • Where do I start?
  • Do I have what I need to have a successful start?
  • What are we doing?

As the questions start to swirl, I know to hit the pause button and take a moment to collect myself. The question that matters at this moment is, “Who is the client and what do I need to know about this project?” 

The answer to this question is imperative to the way I define my approach to setting up a project, team and client engagement. After I understand all of the details, I am able to push through the anxiety and move to excitement and action. 

😁 Phase 2: Excitement & Action

This is also known as the relationship-building phase. This phase marks the beginning of merging the client team with the SiteCrafting team. I love this phase because it is the time to get to know each other, define norms and get an understanding of where the client is in the journey. This is also a time to showcase curiosity, authenticity and interest. 

Relationship building can be stressful, but it can also be fun. Preparing your team and client for the first engagement is key to establishing a good start and impression for the project. It’s like setting up two friends on a blind date and making sure they both have the information they need to carry a meaningful conversation.

Questions I ask myself to move through this phase: 

  • Which questions do we need to answer to start?
  • What questions do we anticipate will be asked?
  • Who is the point person to address specific questions?
  • Did we establish confidence?

🕊 Phase 3: Clarity, Peace & Joy

The discovery phase for a project is the foundation for success. In this phase, the primary goal is to define and prioritize requirements and acceptance criteria. The goal is also to move from the feelings of excitement and action to clarity, peace and joy. 

Research and workshops with the client help us to establish project priorities and understand what we want the end product to be. Workshops such as Cores & Paths, Story Mapping and Journey Mapping help hone the project focus and energize the teams. 

The questions I often ask myself: 

  • What are we making?
  • Are these goals achievable?
  • Is it what the end-user is asking for?
  • Does our direction achieve business and user goals?
  • What is our MVP? Minimum Viable Product > Make Vision Possible

The outcome of the work in this phase provides clarity and vision. Having a target to work toward brings me peace and joy, and sets the tone for the next phase of project management. 

😅 Phase 4: Nervousness & Delight

With user and business requirements defined, we have the foundation to create the product architecture and functional and visual experience. We begin to see what the possibilities for the product can be (for example, wireframes, prototypes, storyboard and design).

This phase provides our teams, clients and users a platform to provide feedback based on emotion, tactile and sensory engagement with the product experience and design. It evokes subjective and studied dialog and debate on what is a good experience. It brings forth feelings of passion and opinion. It brings out the dreamer in us.

But if not managed carefully, it can come at a cost. The tricky part of this phase is the tension between dreaming big and staying within scope and budget. 

This pushes and pulls my emotions. Are we crafting something the end-user wants? Will the client love it? Can we make this in our timeline and budget? I feel equal parts excited and nervous here. Excited for the creativity of the design and nervous for the effort it will take to develop.

😬 Phase 5: Nail Biting & Face Petting

This phase is the most nerve-racking for me. This is the content and development phase where we build the vision. Stress and focus work in conjunction for me during this phase because I need to ensure the team, client and I are in sync as we work toward a finished product.

My emotions can range from frustration to joy to pride. I feel frustration when breakdowns happen within our team or we face challenges with a client’s process. I feel joy when the client is pleased with the build outcome and when the team is proud of what has been developed. I feel pride when we receive an approved release candidate that everyone is excited to get in the hands of the customer.

My advice to anyone experiencing the Nail Biting & Face Petting Phase (NBFPP) is to be ready with strategies to address the breakdowns. I lean heavily on team and client retrospectives to get the challenge out in the open and to define solutions that can be put in place. And don’t give up. All the nail biting proves worth it as we near the finish.

🤩 Phase 6: Inspired

The project launch is a huge moment for the entire team. We are able to step back and see what we have made together. It is a moment for us to reflect on the journey that got us to this moment. We are able to openly discuss hardships and successes. We share our delights and learnings. We recognize our peers and the relationship we’ve built with our partners and teams. 

In these moments I am proud of the relationships made. I am happy and relieved that we have launched the product we invested so much time in, and I am excited to share the great work we have done together.

For my fellow project managers out there, never skip this phase. Always take a moment to celebrate and recognize the team in a way that shows the respect and appreciation you have for who they are and what they have achieved together.

Feel the Feelings

If you take away anything from this reflection, I hope it is this: You will encounter many emotions during a project. Embrace them. Don’t ignore them. Lean on the emotions as indicators that can help you engage fully with your team, your partners — and yourself.