Project Management optimize

Three "project management sins" and how they affect our teams


Project management as a profession barely recognizes the importance of individual ability or talent. In many ways, it evolved close to the nexus of our current society's tendency to sequester power and commodify talent. Even so, it directly manipulates the lives of real people, not just process and technology or time, resource, and function. As such there are approaches a project manager can take which permanently, irrevocably damage the people whose lives he touches. These approaches, the deadly sins of project management, represent the worst of ourselves.

The follow list outlines some of these deadly sins. I've listed them in no particular order other than potentially weighting them in terms of their emotional impact on my own life.

1) Wrath

Wrath is a great, old-time kind of sin. We like to think of it as anger now and laud its virtues in a "warrior" society. Wrath in project management is more than anger, though. Wrath occurs when we allow our frustration and other personal turmoil to boil over into our interactions with others. Being angry isn't a problem for most project managers; allowing that anger to infect our dealings with other groups or our judgment within the project team brings about ruin.

The thing about wrath is it escalates. If I get mad at you, you will get mad at me. If I deal in anger with another department, the people in that department will reciprocate. Once that cycle starts, it builds and builds until it taints every conversation. At that point the work of the project is secondary to expressing the emotions between the people involved and nothing much gets done.

2) Pride

The struggle with pride informs our greatest works of art and some of our worst moments of depravity. This struggle poses no less danger in project management than it does in any other field in which we lead other people, whether we want to admit it or not. In project management, pride manifests itself generally as an inability to listen to outside perspectives even when we know we are wrong.

Pride in ourselves and our work is not necessarily a bad thing. Cutting off outside sources and refusing to learn leads us into a self-referential spiral which can only end in failure.

3) Urgency

We generally think of urgency as a virtue. In project management, urgency generally only occurs in two situations. In one we have to initiate existing contingency plans to overcome a problem. In the other, we deliberately create situations where we have to execute on "impossible" tasks in other to achieve the project's objectives. The first is just life. The second is our effort, deliberate or unconscious, to make ourselves look good. It's related in some ways to that oldy-but-goody sin we sometimes call vanity.

When an individual contributor seeks out urgency he endangers himself and his immediate network. When a project manager seeks out urgency, when he deliberately sets things up so that he must struggle to get everything done, this urgency is magnified and distrusted to everyone else on the project and everyone interfacing with the project.

Now, I've personally engaged in some or all of these three at one point or another. In fact, I can honestly say that were I to list all of the "sins" I've come up with, I could honestly admit to each and every one, on multiple occasions. The question isn't do we make mistakes like these - the question is what do we do to defuse the situation and return the people we work with to a functional working environment.

I'll see if I can work on a more comprehensive list for later.

9 comments
mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

I have yet to be included in a project that didn't have Urgency. All the projects I have been involved in all the people were running around with their hair of fire urgently trying to get the work done; and I have worked for just about every type of project in numerous firms from Microsoft doing RTM pushes to small agile groups making utilities.

casey
casey

While I largely agree with the conclusion that the behaviors described as ???sins??? should be avoided, not only when managing projects but when living one???s life, I am troubled by the authors opening statement: ???Project management as a profession barely recognizes the importance of individual ability or talent. In many ways, it evolved close to the nexus of our current society???s tendency to sequester power and commodify(SIC) talent.??? Wow. There???s so much wrong here. First, PM as a profession stresses proper resources and time for any project. This naturally supports an assumption that serious consideration of an individual???s ability and talent be factored into your team composition and planning. To do otherwise can introduce significant risk into a project. Second, the tendency to sequester power is an inherently human trait evidenced throughout history not a recent occurrence. All groups (political, professional, religious), share and exhibit this characteristic. Crack open any history book and you can???t read more than 3 pages without seeing this force in action. Finally, I really don???t understand how you turn talent into a commodity. True talent is a differentiating factor, not a homogenizing one. If the author is referring to the practice described in the old management axiom ???1st rate managers hire 1st rate people, 2nd rate managers hire 3rd rate people??? I can see a loose connection. But applicable to society at large ??? I???m skeptical.

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

Just look at the seven deadly sins listed in the Christian Holy Bible. Each of them can be seen as dangerous in project management as well as life in general. You've already covered some (either directly or indirectly). Some of the others you haven't covered include the following: Gluttony -- when you take on too many projects to successfully manage all of them. Essentially, this is the sin of not knowing when to say "no". Greed -- when you take on a project (or several) in order to "look good" or get some kind of fancy reward that you really want. Could also be present when you keep demanding more of your team in order to meet your deadline or some other critical measurement. You touch slightly on this in your "Urgency" section too. Lust -- okay, this one is a bit tougher (anyone have any ideas). Perhaps putting a "favorite" member of your team ahead of others (a dark form of "love", perhaps). Sloth (or laziness) -- If you take on a project just to avoid the trouble that would come about from saying "no", that's sloth. So is taking on a project and putting off everything on other people. Delegation is one thing, sloth is another. Pride -- I'd add that taking on a project because of a belief nobody else can do it is also a form of pride. And beyond the deadly sins, there's also such things as idolatry. This comes about when the process becomes so much more important than actually leading. In a sense, you are 'worshipping' the process, and worshipping a process is never a good thing. It also applies to always using a particular methodology or even computer language, etc.

cdsharp
cdsharp

Sloth- When you have all the right resources, if you habitually violate the iron triangle in project delivery then no excuse can save you from the reputation of 'slacker' or 'incompetent'. It becomes difficult to recruit team members - they don't want to share your reputation. Stay on top of your skillset and take advantage of every opportunity to improve. Greed (or is it gluttony?)- Taking on more projects than you have time or resources to complete effectively is not a winning plan to bring yourself to executive's attention. While we are all asked to do the impossible at times, a good project manager knows that juggling multiple high-risk mission-critical projects is not going to get you the kind of recognition you crave. Quite the opposite in fact. Know when to say 'when'.

uFunctional
uFunctional

"First, PM as a profession stresses proper resources and time for any project." I understand the term in a generic sense, but what's with managers saying "resources" when they clearly mean "people?" I don't know where this came from, but I suspect the PMI. STRAW POLL. How many of you headcount, bodies, individual contributors, and other non-managers cringe when you and your peers are called "resources?"

jennifer1019
jennifer1019

I think that lust goes with greed and gluttony. It takes the form of lusting for the sexy return - looking good, getting recognition, being stroked with praise, the afterglow, the mental orgasm and release.

JamesRL
JamesRL

All of my team consider themselves resources as they work on project teams. Thats pretty common usage. We talk about QA resources, development resources etc. Now I can understand non-project types being confused, but they would rather be a resource I am sure than a headcount. They would see resource as positive and headcount as a negative (a cost). James

casey
casey

My use of the word resources was intentional: to be all inclusive of the elements of any business project typically requiring financial investment - people, money, equipment. In business, ?Resources? is a shorthand expression, just as ?Development? in IT is shorthand for all the elements required to produce software. Economically speaking, capitalistic endeavors were referred to as needing a balance of 3 components ? ?factors of production: Man, Money and Machines?. As best as I can tell, the term ?human resources? evolved from the human relations movement started in the 1920?s. Human Resource departments in business and government followed. The PMI did not come into existence until 1969 with its prime mission being to expand the awareness of projects and their management while advancing the careers of those people who manage projects.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I find that some projects are very "lusty" - they lust after new technology, doing things in a "sexy" way, one that will show off their skills etc. Many of these types would prefer we skip the business case all together, ignore the investments in the current infrastructure and just dive right in to a new and expensive area before doing the homework. Its the next morning, when you wake up and discovered you spent too much money, ended up with an unsupportable monster a little too far ahead of the technology curve when you wonder whether you were drunk when that decision was made.... James