Project Management

11 compelling reasons to turn down a project

Before accepting a project management gig, use this list as a guide to determine whether that would be a wise decision.

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Image: iStock/Alliance

While all of these factors may not always be reasons to turn down a project, they should be factored into your decision about whether to say "yes" to a PM job offer.

1: Conflict of interest/ethics

When presented with an opportunity to work on a project, first consider whether there is any conflict of interest or ethical concerns. As a project management professional, the last thing you want to do is accept a project knowing or even suspecting there may be some concern that puts your professional judgement or ethics into question.

Take the time to assess if there may be a conflict between your role and the client's project or objectives. Excepting a project where either of these is a concern would be disastrous to your career and reputation.

2: Unrealistic goals

Goals that aren't realistic can set you up for failure. You should ensure the project goals are attainable based on the available people, processes, and technologies. Oftentimes a shortfall in any of these areas can make or break one or more required goals, or even the entire project.

If any goals are dependent on the success of other goals, and those other goals cannot be achieved, this can be a showstopper. If meeting particular goals are in question, talk with project sponsors and other stakeholders prior to accepting a project.

3: The wrong fit

Sometimes the project is not the issue; sometimes a client may not be a good fit overall. It could be a problem with the company's culture, location, politics, policies, leadership, views, or other factors.

Some of these issues can be overcome, but are dependent on both parties being able to fully resolve any issues in a way that is mutually beneficial. This should be addressed prior to agreeing to a project.

4: Lack of experience or knowledge

Going into a project knowing you lack significant knowledge or experience to be effective enough for a client to be satisfied with the results probably isn't a good idea. If you don't have the confidence and ability to take on a larger project or a project in a specific industry, it would be better for all parties involved if you are honest with them and turn down the project. Don't risk losing the client's confidence and future business; you are more likely to be respected for being transparent and operating in good faith.

SEE: 6 ways to destroy your project management career

5: Commitment issues

It's important to know and admit to project owners/sponsors that you can't fully commit to a project. Maybe you can't commit your time because you're overscheduled or have other obligations that conflict. Sometimes the lack of commitment isn't your choice, but rather due to unconfirmed resources assigned to the project; if this is the case, the project is unlikely to be successful.

Be open and direct with project sponsors rather than proceeding ill prepared. All involved parties must be completely dedicated and equipped for the project to succeed.

6: Poor leadership and/or sponsorship support

There are times when projects are initiated, budgets are set, resources are adequately allocated, and stakeholder buy-in is present—with the exception of full sponsor and leadership backing. Company leadership may recognize the need for the project at a high level, yet may not provide the full and necessary day-to-day ongoing support needed for the project to remain successful.

Projects don't always go as planned, making it critical for project managers and teams to have continued leadership support. If this is in question, it puts team efforts at risk.

7: Stakeholder conflict and buy-in issues

Some stakeholder conflict and lack of buy-in is normal and should not be considered a showstopper.

But there may be situations where stakeholder conflict and buy-in issues are insurmountable. A project manager may have far too great an uphill battle trying to resolve clashes and create buy-in with stakeholders. In this case, it's best that these issues are resolved with the help of the company's leadership prior to initiating the project.

8: The absence of required tools/software

Taking on a project that lacks the necessary tools/software for success can lead to significant frustration, manual workarounds, and ultimately disrupt workflows, reduce productivity, and negatively impact the scope and outcome of the project.

Prior to accepting a project, discuss what tools/software are available to efficiently accomplish tasks and meet all goals. If the project owner/sponsor is not receptive to providing the right tools for the job, it can make the project team's work extremely difficult and maybe even impossible.

9: Insufficient compensation

PMs hold significant knowledge and skill, and it's important to ensure that you are adequately compensated for your contributions as a project leader. You have a pivotal and highly accountable role in the success of a project, and it's important that you are rewarded appropriately and fairly for that role.

Leading, facilitating, resolving conflict, managing change, motivating individuals and teams, and executing strategy is a high-value, highly intellectual role. Companies rely heavily on these abilities, which can put a significant amount of stress on you. Ensure your contributions are sufficiently recognized to make project acceptance a win-win.

SEE: When and how to turn down a project (TechRepublic)

10: Wrong career direction

When offered projects, don't just say "yes" for the compensation—think about whether it is steering your career in the direction you desire.

You should think of your career as a strategic project: Is it moving in the right direction, or are you accepting projects because they're presented?

When you accept projects that don't meet your career aspirations, remember your time is unavailable for projects that meet your goals. If at all possible, gear project acceptance towards a future you envision.

11: Insufficient interest

Sometimes you may be presented with projects that you aren't interested in pursuing. While it sounds selfish to turn projects down based solely on this factor, it's better for the client, because in order to be effective, you must be interested enough to help them meet their goals. Dragging yourself through a project you have no interest in isn't good for you, for stakeholders, or the project team, and is unlikely to end in success.

Also see

About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

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