As project managers we want our team members to have a commitment to deadlines, be optimistic about their work, stay focused on the goal, have a competitive mindset, stick to the budget, and please clients and management, don’t we? And yet, these six behaviours, which most of us would readily agree are important, can precede a scandal, cause morale problems, and sink projects.
In an interesting blog post David Gelber, author of The 3 Power Values, provides some pertinent examples of disastrous business results from being obsessive about these behaviours. They intrigued me so I decided to write about them in a project management context.
1. Commitment to deadlines
While this is at the core of successful project management, when the schedule becomes sacrosanct and we do everything in our power to meet it, we create more problems than they’re worth. A colleague of mine once called this phenomenon SOT, or ‘you know what the S means’ On Time.
The State of Maine was under a court order to launch a system to pay for the medical care of indigent residents. They were hopelessly late and launched without proper testing. The result? The system rejected more than a quarter of a million claims and the state’s CIO found another job running the local YMCA.
2. Excessive optimism
Optimism can be a powerful influencer on projects. But when team members see things that are problematic but won’t report them for fear of being rebuked or ostracised, or worse, being accused of being negative, everyone pays a heavy toll. If everyone walks around with a happy face because they don’t want to tell you what’s wrong, you have big problems. How do you know if your team members are being honest with you? NASA’s Challenger disaster was the direct result of members not speaking up with negative information.
3. Having a competitive mindset
We want our team members to be totally dedicated and committed to our projects because we want to deliver and be seen as successful project managers. But when project managers raid other projects for members, or team members constantly try to outdo one another for your attention, the company, and the project will suffer. A back-biting “I got mine Jack” environment where individuals see themselves in a zero-sum game and will do anything to ‘win’ creates a toxic work environment. Just look at WalMart’s problems with alleged bribes to Mexican officials so they could open stores faster than the competition. They’ll pay dearly in the court of public opinion if found guilty.
4. Staying focused on the goal
The end-game is important but too much focus can radically alter our good intentions. A friend of mine is working on a project where she is required to produce one deliverable a day. She said she would get that deliverable out no matter what because her job is riding on it. Do you think she’s going to provide the same level of quality she did to these deliverables before management issued the ‘edict’? Be careful what you ask for. You may get something completely different!
5. Sticking to a budget
Weird and unfortunate things happen when financial performance becomes an overriding objective. Take Boston’s Big Dig, a massive construction project that suffered stupendous cost overruns (460% over budget). Although I don’t think anyone knows for sure, we have to wonder if the rush to finish the work in one of the tunnels caused a 12-ton concrete slab to collapse on a female commuter. In my personal experience, rushing to finish a job is the leading cause of quality issues, regardless of what type of work you’re doing.
6. Wanting to please management
If we’re honest with ourselves, we like the idea of those around us working hard to earn our respect and a pat on the back. But we need to be careful not to create a culture in which those who please us the most get ahead. When team members try to please us they will produce estimates and agree to schedules that are unrealistic and cannot be met simply because they fear your rejection. I worked with one guy who consistently failed to deliver because he always said “yes” to any request. In fact, the very thing he feared the most—being criticised and demoted because he was afraid to say no—actually happened because he said ‘yes’ and didn’t deliver.