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.
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.
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.
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.