The project director was a tyrant - an impossible man who had temper tantrums regularly and chewed people out throughout the day. He gave the team 6 months to put a new system in place with the new architecture. The project manager consulted with her team. They all agreed that 6 months would be utterly undoable. They proposed a number of options that would get them a phased in target solution over a two year period. The director insisted on the 6 month target. The project manager resigned. The regulatory agency was watching with great interest.
As predicted by the project manager, the deadline arrived and the system was not even close to complete. The replacement project manager was fired. The other plant managers looked the other way and had their engineers continue to use the original pilot. The project went on, but it was now too little, too late. The pilot stayed in use as the real system for another three years. Once again, a team was put under extraordinary pressure for little reason and nothing to show for it. The project director left the plant to pursue other interests. You can’t always get what you want!
How a Great Project Manager Tried and Failed
These are always tough situations to deal with. When the individual in charge tries to impose his or her will on others without considering and responding appropriately to the opposing views and feedback of knowledgeable professionals, chaos almost always ensues. The result: messed up lives (and sometimes careers), questionable quality, wasted opportunity, time and money.
In many ways, the original project manager did the right things:
- She focused on the objectives of the project to address the needs of the plant managers and the regulatory agency.
- She consulted fully with her team and accepted their counsel.
- She and her team developed alternative approaches that would phase the solution in over two years to accelerate the delivery of benefits and manage the risks associated with the new architecture.
- She said NO to an unreasonable demand.
- She escalated her concerns to her boss but, for a number of reasons including his own potential loss of job, he sided with the director.
What else could she have done? It’s not easy defying a tyrant but that’s exactly what was called for in this situation. Obviously the project director’s pursuit of an impossible 6 month solution was not only bad for the team, it was bad for the whole plant and the regulatory agency too. The director’s demands were exposing the plant to significant risk. The project manager needed to go around and/or over. And, that’s exactly what she did.
- She tapped into the other stakeholders to shift the director’s demands. The departments were protective of their data, but were told they had to comply (even though they hated this guy and did not want to see him succeed). Here was an opportunity for the other stakeholders to wield their influence. Unbelievably, they sided with the director.
- She escalated directly to the plant manager, admittedly very tough to do without the support of your own boss. He sided with the project director as well.
- Finally, she went directly to the regulatory agency for guidance. The agency’s representative on the project also supported the project director’s stance.
The project manager discovered that the director had sold a bill of goods to the stakeholders (behind her back) and by the time he presented his demands to her, it was too late to alter the opinions of the other stakeholders. They were all on board with the director, assuring the project manager that it would be all right. She watched the director’s enemies slap him on the back and congratulate him for being so smart. The project manager departed with her head held high.
The project manager had formed a stakeholder group at the outset of the pilot and they had been actively involved through the early stages. But, as so often happens over the course of a project, during the pilot development and implementation and the envisaging of the replacement solution, the project manager had focused much more of her attention on guiding her team to get the work done, much less on stakeholder engagement. That left her stakeholders ripe for the picking by the project director. Had she fully engaged the stakeholders throughout the pilot and into the development of the new architecture, they would have been much more aware of the issues and risks, more committed to the approach recommended by the project manager and much less likely to be swayed by a bullying director.
The stakeholder group is a most powerful force for enlightened project guidance and an essential resource for project managers. But it needs to be nurtured and cultivated from project inception through completion. That’s why it’s central to Project Pre-Check’s model, processes and Decision Framework. It is a great place to start your project and supplies a terrific framework for building an effective guiding coalition that will be there when conflicts and crises arise.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember to consider Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks right up front and put these points on your checklist of things to do so you too can be a Great Project Manager.
In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, send me the details and we’ll have a go. This month, if your project is selected and published, I’ll send you a free copy of my latest book, Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management.
Don't forget to leave your comments below.