The railroader is the kind of person that will use his personality and blind determination to force his ideas through, regardless of other popular, or learned opinion.
You’ll easily be able to classify a Railroader when you encounter one, they typically talk over other people, usually starting when the have a grasp of an idea and think they can run with it. At this point, they genuinely think they know better than everyone else in the room, including the person who was talking.
You can try to go toe-to-toe with a Railroader, and keep talking over them but unless you have the presence or seniority to carry it off and they stop, it can quickly degenerate into a babble-fest where the rest of the assembled group will be wondering what’s going on.
One strategy is to use distraction to shut them up, like the magicians do. I don’t suggest the, “Look, an eagle!”, approach. More the open handed-stop signal, holding up your finger or pen as a blocker, hand on the shoulder, other ways to knock them off their stride. But be aware when they’ve sussed what you’ve done, they’ll just start off again.
The best strategy is to let them talk themselves out first. Then pitch in with the real solution, as it’s highly probable they have not grasped the whole situation and have gone off half-cocked.
That way you end up looking like the one that knows what they are talking about, which is about right.
The world is an imperfect place. Projects more so. This needn’t always be bad news. Keep an eye out for things going wrong that aren’t your fault and lie outwith your control. They can be very useful, particularly if there are other things amiss that your are accountable for.
If you get a rug. Use it. Bury your bad stuff under it and carry on. It’s really very simple…
“Yeah, we were on track but (someone else’s problem) happened and we couldn’t get our stuff completed.“
They will come in many shapes and sizes. The obvious ones are usually infrastructure related, server death etc.
Using a rug is simply an opportunistic version of Schedule Chicken. Rather than taking a chance that someone else’s misfortune might benefit you. You simply pounce on the chance when you get it. It often makes sense to pounce on it when you aren’t directly impacted. No harm in building up some excuses.
Even if you don’t have any issues, get used to spotting rugs. Say to yourself “ooh, that’s a rug” when you see one. But not too loud. You don’t want people thinking you’re mad.
As your reputation as a Project Manager of note becomes known and people start saying good things about you in hushed tones, the time will eventually come when your manager will call you to the side to ‘ask a favour’. The conversation will start off something like this, ‘We’ve got this project, it’s had a few problems in the past, and I think you’re just the man to put it right.’
Now, of course you’ll be hooked to the grapevine and a bit of an information junkie and will therefore already know plenty about this project and its history of ‘problems’.
Now, you may not have much of a choice about taking on this project, but you are certainly in a position to voice some conditions under which you’ll take it on if you are to deliver it successfully. Look at the big three variables in a project – budget, timescale, scope. This is your chance to put your marker down and give yourself some breathing room.
This is a good time to make some demands about who you need on your team to deliver the project, don’t worry if they’re on another team, another project or even external. It’s also a particularly good idea to review the scope and deliverables of the project, perhaps exclude some features, change technologies or deliver in phases. Lots of options, consider as many as you can.
Be sure you make it clear that not getting the necessary amendments to resourcing, budget or scope will affect your ability to rescue the project as requested. Just remember, once your name is scribed on that list alongside the name of the project, your bargaining power on this front is reduced considerably.