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If Perceptions Are Everything

Mike Lecky’s Monthly Blog

When an artist paints a picture of a pond, we can look at it and see reflections of the shore on the water. If we can’t see the actual shore, then our only view of it is in the reflections. As a result, our perception of the shoreline may differ from what is actually there. A smooth, polished surface reflects true details, whereas rough waters prevent important detail from shining through.

I think you get where I’m going with this.

Recently I’ve done some work linking project risk management to information security risk assessments and enterprise risk management. An article in the November issue of PM Network magazine caught my attention. In her article entitled “It’s a Fine Line” Susan Ladika takes on the issue of how perceptions can affect project success.

One comment in the article resonates with me. It is that project managers need to “figure out what stakeholders perceive as success – and find a way to make the project live up to those expectations”.

This couldn’t be truer. If there is one thing a project manager is entrusted with it is the success of the project. We have wonderful processes, tools and best practices at our disposal. We’re full of knowledge on how to deliver on time, on budget and on scope. But no matter how closely we track to plan or deliver according to documented objectives, it’s what the stakeholders think that counts.

It’s the same with a company’s customers. Their perceptions are important. We’re all aware of how security breaches at major corporations have resulted in leaks of customers’ personal information. At the corporate governance level, this is dealt with by enterprise risk management programs. After all, what company, breached or not, would want its customers thinking their personal information was not safe? It’s like in the early part of the last century when people incorrectly thought their money might not be secure at the bank. A rumor would fester and, true or not, there’d be a run on the bank. Everyone would run to withdraw their cash and the bank would go under, whether it was in trouble or not. It’s a clear example of how perceptions, not factual information, can drive a failure.

Is taking a risk-based approach to managing perceptions starting to sound like a good idea?

When we analyze and assess risks, we develop a clearer understanding of the vulnerabilities of the project and the potential impacts of threats. We do this so we can make informed decisions on what to do about it. If an incorrect perception threatens the success of any part of the project, it behooves us to investigate and take action before it festers. Likewise, if negative perceptions already exist, why is this so? Perhaps there really is a problem.

Project managers need to test the pond water for smoothness and ensure the right perceptions are given off. Managing perceptions as a risk category is worth considering.


Mike Lecky is a consultant at The Manta Group, a management consulting company specializing in IT governance, Project and Portfolio Management, Service Management, Risk and Compliance. Mike has degrees from the University of Waterloo (BScEng), The University of Western Ontario (MBA) and the University of Liverpool (MScIT). He worked for 12 years in aerospace electronics and as a Project Engineer managed several general aviation and US Military contracts. He teaches project management online with the School of Applied Technology at Humber College. Now, with over 25 years experience, he is a PMP and an information security professional (CISSP) and has a broad range of program and technology implementation experiences in the high tech and service sectors. Mike can be reached at [email protected].

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