Skip to main content

Avoid Failure – Support Weakness with Strength

Many projects fail because the strong do not come to the aid of the weak.  Often we find people assigned to critical tasks on projects without having the strength (knowledge, talent, experience, flexibility and intelligence) to perform them successfully. 

Ideally, there would be no weak performers.  Selection, training and coaching would bring everyone to a solid level of strength for all the tasks to which they are assigned.   But, let’s be realistic.  There are often instances in which tasks are assigned to people who cannot do them successfully

When this happens the project is put in jeopardy and the project team as a whole suffers, unless project planners adapt to the situation, planning and acting accordingly.

For many, the knee jerk reaction to a weak performer is to complain and blame.  Expectations are set too high and are not fulfilled. The thinking goes that “Charlie is a senior person and he should have the ability to do the work well.”  The key word here is “should”.  As project managers we are not so interested in what should be and very interested in what is and what will be.

Complaining and blaming may be cathartic, making the complainer feel a little better, but it does not address the problem of getting the work done well, on time and on budget. Complaining and blaming takes place after the damage is done.  Project managers want to make sure, to the best of their ability that the damage does not get done.

Avoiding the Risk

This is a risk management issue.  What is the probability that the person assigned to the task can do it well?  What is the impact if he or she cannot?

When we identify the risk that an assigned team member does not have the strength to do the job well, the most skillful approach is for other team members to take on extra work to compensate for the weakness.  

For example, if someone is assigned to write a document, can do all the research but organizes and writes poorly, it is wise for a team member who is a good writer to take on the writing task or to be ready for considerable editing/rewrite. 

This, of course, assumes that the person picking up the extra work has the time to do it without jeopardizing other task completions. To avoid that risk, the project should be planned, based on candid assessment of team member skills, to include rework, editing, extra testing or more effective assignments (for examp0le breaking the task in the example into two tasks, one for the research the other for the writing).  Make the supporting work an “official” part of the plan and ensure that it gets done well without jeopardizing the schedule or relying on the good will and good judgment of the good writer, who would have to informally pick up extra work to make the deliverable right. 

In other words, know the weaknesses of team members and make assignments that support weaknesses with strengths even though that may take longer or cost more. In the end, it is usually the quality of the outcome that matters most.

That means getting people to acknowledge their weaknesses and strengths when the project is being planned and getting team members to accept the fact that there is an obligation to support one another, even without there being an official assignment to do so.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below. 

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

Comments (4)