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Rushing the Project to Disaster – Greed and Fear

With the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a case in point we have another example of the interplay between greed and fear, and how they drive projects to disaster.

A former contractor on the BP Atlantis platform reported that many engineer-approved documents that were needed to assure safe operations were missing.  How often, albeit in far less critical projects, do we find documentation and due diligence go out the window in the face of pressures from the sponsor and client to get the product operational.

This post is not meant as an analysis of the spill and its causes.  Many others are engaged in that and chances are that the answers about what happened and why will be lost in the millions of words of reports, news conferences and the like.

However, we can use this catastrophe as a reminder of what happens when we cut corners to rush to completion, so sponsors and clients can reap the benefits of the project, and managers can reap the benefits of the perception of being on time and within budget.  In the end, the rushing increases the risk of losing far more than is gained by a few days, weeks or months of early completion.  We have seen the results of cutting corners and avoiding project delaying risks many times before.. Remember the Challenger and its ‘O’ ring, for example. 

What we seem to have is a collective learning disability.

Greed blinds the sponsors and clients and their representatives.  They want what they want and won’t take no for an answer.  Fear drives the project managers, quality assurance people and others who fail to push back.  In the event that pushing back doesn’t succeed, they need to take a courageous personal stance and blow the whistle before the disaster occurs.

All the procedures and policies in the world will not overcome greed and fear.  The only thing that will is the courage to be rational and to have the kindness and compassion to help even the people pushing hard for doing the wrong thing to avoid self destructive behavior.

As project managers, while doing our best to be as agile as possible, we must methodically follow safety and quality procedures and hold those who don’t accountable.  We must raise red flags in a way that gets the attention of the people who are unconsciously or consciously leading themselves and others into an abyss.  When that fails, we must be ready to put our integrity on the line and escalate issues to levels at which there is sufficient authority to act, and some rational thinking going on.  We must also accept the fact that in any given situation there may be no such place.

 As Pete Seeger asks in his song Where have All the Flowers Gone:

“When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?

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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.

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