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Overcoming Project Management Super Villains

Delivering our profession often requires super-human effort and, as we all know, a super hero is only as good as the super villains they have to defeat.

This article covers three of the super villains that plague project managers and provides some insights into how to deal with them.

1. The Scope Shape Shifter

The scope shape shifter can be identified by frequent changes in requirements and other scope elements. Just when you think you’ve got the shape shifter’s requirements nailed down, they morph into something else resulting in budget overruns and schedule delays. If you try to enforce rigid scope control practices with them, they escalate and complain that you are “nickel and diming” them or are not paying attention to customer satisfaction.

One way to deal with the scope shape shifter is to use an agile project management approach that encourages refinement of requirements over the project’s lifecycle. If you are unable to apply agile practices due to the nature of the project, structure it in a phased approach and focus on delivering the highest priority requirements first, leaving medium or lower priority requirements for future phases (and hence open for change by the customer).

2. The Sponsor from Another Dimension

The extra-dimensional sponsor starts out by being all that you want a sponsor to be -communicating the value of their project to all stakeholders, securing the necessary funding to get the project kicked off, and providing you with a vision of how they see this project benefitting their world.

Unfortunately, the moment you escalate a project issue, or assign them as the owner of a risk event, they have dimension-shifted back to another plane of existence from whence they can observe unscathed the chaos occurring in your world.

The key to keeping these sponsors in our dimension is to engage them only when absolutely necessary and in appropriate “business terms” (so they don’t feel overwhelmed with information that they perceive is of little value to them), to ensure that project success is considered part of their performance evaluation (by appropriately leveraging your influence across the organization), and if all else fails, to have an appropriate escalation path to be able to drag them kicking and screaming back into our world.

3. The Prima Donna

On many projects you may forget that you are the project manager and start to feel more like a babysitter. At least one of your project resources might be extremely reluctant to provide timely progress updates without frequent nagging, may ignore assigned issues, and in general does not “play well” with fellow team members.

To defuse this situation before it occurs, it is very important for project managers to establish expectations for communication and team interaction as early as possible. These expectations should be reinforced on a regular basis during team meetings.

The project manager should also strive to establish good relationships with resource managers, which makes the process of escalating concerns about specific resources easier to deal with. The worst thing a project manager can do is to pander to prima donnas. If their behavior is tolerated, they will go from bad to worse, and other responsible team members will be demoralized.

Have I ignored any of the key arch-villains? Let me know.

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