Project Management

When should a project manager just say 'No'?

This project manager knew that he didn't have the resources for a successful project and that the client wouldn't be supplying them. Should he have stayed or walked away?

Even when you have all the resources and tools you need, project management is still a challenge. But when you’re faced with completing a project without the luxury of those resources, the challenge can be overwhelming. Sometimes you, as the project manager, have to draw the line between what you can and can’t do, and risk losing the gig.

Here is what happened when one TechRepublic member was faced with a similar frustrating scenario.

Off to a shaky start
As an experienced project manager, this TechRepublic member was contracted to work on a company’s new project. The first thing he did on the job was to analyze all the goals, expectations, standards, resources, and tools associated with the project. He formulized a plan based on the results and presented it, along with a list of needs, to his contact person in the company.

He was informed that this was a “trial project” and not to count on getting his needs met. Then he heard from the finance committee, which would be the one to give him the go-ahead. The committee responded, “Excellent analysis, but we can only give you some of what you’re asking for. We’re not a big company, you know. We believe in your capacity to get the work done even with a lack of resources.”

Of course, the project then limped along. Because management began getting complaints from users and clients, the project manager decided to try again.

“I sent status reports and asked for some changes, some adjustments,” he said. “I created reports that showed that with just a little more investment, we could tackle the problems. But they wouldn’t listen.”

The project manager knew it wasn’t possible to produce a high-quality product with the available resources. “But my pride made me think I could handle the problem,” he said. “It cost me long nights of extra work, forcing me to pull up my sleeves to get the work done myself, and not well done at that.”

The breaking point
A few months passed, and he got no complaints from upper management, even though the project wasn’t up to his own standards. Maybe that was the quality of work they expected. But one day, someone proposed changes to the product. More work. Same resources. That’s when he’d had enough.

He approached the committee again and explained that he couldn’t make the project work without all the resources he needed. It would be a great story if they agreed and handed over everything he needed. Not quite. They told him, “Thank you very much, but we’ll find someone who can.”

The last time he looked, the product was still going. The company had acquired more resources and taken into consideration some of the plans he’d presented in his original analysis—except they now have a new project manager.

What’s your opinion?
It’s often difficult to admit that a project just can’t be completed with the resources at hand. But what should this consultant have done differently? Should this project manager have bowed out at the beginning, or was he right to give it a shot? Send us an e-mail or post a comment in the discussion area at the end of this article.

 

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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