Rainbow dice

Role playing games are rife with rules and mechanics to get you to your goals. Game Masters (GMs) often spend hours preparing for a session reading up on backstories, planning maps, and filling in the details. However, a great GM understands what elevates a story isn’t the narrative they’ve planned or the mathematical calculations as they facilitate.  It is the characters and their expertise that makes a gaming group great. Understanding them and their motivations enables a GM to adapt to their decisions, their hesitations, and how to excite them.

Similarly, a PM spends a lot of time planning and organizing a project to run smoothly. Their role is full of gantt charts, reports, and meetings with stakeholders.  Yet, the value they provide to the business has little to do with their technical skills but their ability to assess the motivations and talents of their team and put them to the most effective use.

Before the adventure


We spend time ensuring we have tools, access, and the roles filled on a team, but do we have the right people in those roles? Often experience may be lacking and those gaps need to be identified. Sometimes skills can be bridged. In some cases an entirely new member to the team is needed.

When there are no alternatives, just like helping a new player, we accept that a team member is going to need more help along the way and factor that into plans.

During planning, have the team review the requirements/backlog and the foundational architecture and platform. Meet to discuss questions and check for understanding on expectations.  This is the time to identify concerns in the risk log so that they can be addressed prior to kick-off.

Get to know your team

Initiate one on one discussions as soon as you have staffing assignments to understand the players you’ll be working with.

On the Quest


Throughout the journey, ensure you’re staying on top of meeting for one on ones with each team member.  This ongoing feedback provides opportunities for coaching and helps you to fine tune performance.  It also creates a safe environment to speak frankly about issues without it seeming like you only sit down to talk when there is a problem.

Consult for Decisions

Ultimately, a GM or a PM is responsible for wrangling the group and ensuring success, whether through influence or enforcement of rules. That level of accountability tends to drive leaders into making sure they are seen as decisive to be effective.

While they are largely tasked with being the decider, smart PMs and GMs know that they don’t know everything.  This is why you have talented teams that specialize in their knowledge areas.  Take advantage of the wealth of insight they bring to the table.  Consult them on decisions, determine possible alternatives that might be a better fit, and when possible gain consensus on the path forward.  Your team will better have your back and be much less resistant when you have to make a decision they don’t agree with for overall success or due to constraints.

XP and Loot


While some businesses have budgets for spot bonuses, parties or lunches, in many cases, you may get nothing more than a mention at a department meeting or an email from the stakeholders.  It’s your job as a PM to ensure that the team knows how valuable their efforts were.

Some ideas include:

      • Send your own email to thank the team. Call out specific names and their contributions. Be sure to include all stakeholders and the team members managers.
      • Get together for lunch, even if informally. Happy hours are common but can be ill attended if team members have commitments after hours or just don’t care to drink.
      • Write a physical personal note of thanks.
      • If merited, offer to write a reference or letter of recommendation.

Level Up 

In your wrap-up one on ones, prior to lessons learned, encourage your team to update their personal portfolios, resumes, and LinkedIn where appropriate to keep track of their accomplishments.  This is also a great practice for annual reviews and pushing for promotions. 

Often when we find ourselves needing to update these items, we’ve forgotten a lot of the work for which we should be credited.  This also gives us fresh eyes to tie contributions to the tangible successes the project has achieved.  These quantitative statements carry far more weight than saying you’ve worked on something.  Having a higher level stat means much more than saying you have worked with magic.

The guiding principle in all of these practices is treating your team with humanity and not simply as resources to be traded or crammed into a schedule.  Your team is made up of people, not wood or sheep. Treat them accordingly, and you may just be surprised at the results.

Crystal Larsh is a strategic leader, fierce DEI advocate, and delivery professional leading global teams out of Austin, TX. She has been working in the project and product space since 2001 and has focused on organizational design and operational improvements over the last several years. She has earned an MBA in eCommerce, a Masters in Project Management, a number of certifications (NPDP, PMP, CSM), and actively pursues opportunities for growth (DEI Blueprint, SAFe SPC training, and more). She uses her education and over 20 years of experience to help bring up the next generation, particularly women in tech.

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