Whenever possible, a project manager (PM) should not walk away in the middle of their commitments to a project; however, in certain situations, it may not be avoidable. Here are some reasons that may cause a PM to leave before project completion.
Ethical, illegal, or safety issues may be the biggest catalysts that signal problems for any PM. If a PM is asked to conduct himself or herself in an unethical, illegal, immoral, or unsafe manner, it's best to quit a project; additional action may be required depending on the issue and impact. A PM should not allow himself or herself to be put in a position that questions their personal or professional integrity. A PM also shouldn't participate (actively or passively) in activities that may cause harm to others or themselves. In situations like this, it's always better to walk away regardless of the project stage instead of marching down a path towards disaster. Financial compensation or a sense of obligation or responsibility shouldn't be a deciding factor when it comes to doing what's right and fair. PMs have more of a responsibility to the profession and to themselves than company leadership or stakeholders in such situations.
SEE: 10 ethical rules for IT consultants and contractors (TechRepublic)
Workplace abuse is a topic that's only been brought to the forefront in the last several years, yet it has been an ongoing issue in varying degrees for much longer. Regular dialogue around bullying or abuse in any form takes place every day in most schools, though it's often only addressed at a surface level in many workplace settings. PMs should not allow themselves to be subjected to any form of workplace abuse, nor subject others to it in any form. Additionally, having an awareness of any workplace abuse, especially within project settings, yet doing nothing about it is the same as passively taking part. If any of these situations occur on the job, a PM should work to address it directly with company leadership. If the leadership shows no interest or intent in resolving the matter, a PM should not only consider walking away from a project, but also acting in a responsible manner and disclosing the abuse.
SEE: Hostile workplace prevention policy (Tech Pro Research)
Marked irreconcilable conflict can result from various things including workplace abuse, unethical behavior, legal issues, safety concerns, or extremely damaging workplace behavior. The first sign of conflict is not a reason to quit the project, but if there is marked conflict that infiltrates many levels with no chance of resolution and significantly jeopardizes the project, it may need to be placed on hold at the very least. If a PM has made every effort to address these issues with the leadership team, sponsors, and project teams with no possible resolution in sight, the PM may need to leave the project rather than continuing to pile up losses on every front when the project is destined for failure.
SEE: How to gracefully resign from a contract (TechRepublic)
Major personal life or health events sometimes happen to project leaders. If life events such as health issues or highly stressful personal or family issues impede the PM's ability to maintain complete focus and meet stakeholder needs, it may be better for all parties involved if the PM steps down to allow the project team an increased chance of success with a more focused PM. A PM must be able to recognize the potential risks that major life events or health issues pose to a project before the impact reaches an alarming state. It's critical to provide the necessary communication with sponsors and other parties well in advance when possible to allow enough time to find a suitable replacement; by doing so, the PM is acting in a professional and responsible manner.
Advice for PMs
PMs should clearly communicate any concerns and possible risks with project sponsors early on in the project to allow them ample time to find alternate solutions. And, before throwing in the towel, PMs should explore all available solutions, and utilize best practices, knowledge, and skills—don't enter into the decision to leave lightly.
- 11 compelling reasons to turn down a project (TechRepublic)
- Six tips for a successful project manager transition (TechRepublic)
- The three best lessons I learned from a failed project (TechRepublic)
- 20 cynical project management tips (ZDNet)
- IT consultant code of conduct (Tech Pro Research)
Moira Alexander is the Founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, and a project management and digital workplace columnist for various publications. Moira has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the US and Canada. To find out more about Moira, go to www.pmworld360.com and www.leadhershipgroup.com.