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Why project management initiatives often fail

Generally the leadership in a company or business unit realizes they have a resourcing and/or execution problem. They know that transitioning to a project organization is the solution. They interview and hire someone who is experienced in building and leading a project team. They assure the person that leadership is committed to the success of project management.

After the new hire arrives and lays out the plan, the internal pushback begins. Everyone is too busy working on all the high priority work to even discuss how to change how they work. They explain to leadership that the new hire “doesn’t understand” how that specific industry/organization/company actually operates. The new hire lacks the connection with the employees to induce them to change and lacks the authority to bring in people with the right skills to implement project management.

The leadership team gets caught between the promises they made the new hire, and the fear that their legacy employees will be upset/hurt/jobless if they proceed forward on the agreed-upon path to success. They waiver in their commitment. They make excuses and compromise their goals.

The new hire becomes disillusioned and their engagement decreases. They start searching for another job. They leave. The company then decides that project management isn’t​ right for their organization. Whenever someone brings up the need for project management, that person will be told that it was tried, and it didn’t work. They should just learn how to function in the current environment.

What can leadership do to make sure that project management initiatives succeed?

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Breaking the rules for the organization’s good

Organizations put controls in place to minimize risks, measure productivity and outcomes, and to make more beautiful reports. These controls are often in direct conflict with individual work habits.

People bypass controls to be more productive because the tools provided by the organization aren’t meeting the person’s needs. Rarely do people bypass controls because they want to do something bad.

Organizations can learn a lot by determining why their employees bypass the controls. If they’re bypassing controls to do a better job, invest the time and money to provide them with a comparable approved tool to meet their needs. This is how an organization improves employee engagement and job satisfaction while driving up effectiveness.

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When project failure is a success

Sometimes our greatest success as a project manager is when we’re able to make the case that a project is failing and needs to be shut down. That no amount of optimism, extra efforts, or additional meetings will generate success.

Project managers must be the one place where facts override emotions. Where data shows clearly what the current status is. We need to be above the fray holding the facts to guide the team to the cold reality.

No project manager hopes to be the wielder of the reality stick. Yet we’re often all that stands between organizational bias and reality. It comes with our roles as project leaders.

What is your favorite project failure?

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Vulnerability is a core skill for a project manager

A good project for me is a complicated one. It’s full of potholes, obstacles, and dead ends. I’m forced to think through how to overcome the obstacles. I’m not always successful in my approach.

This is when I let myself be vulnerable. I confide in the core team that I’m currently stuck and unsure of how to proceed. I ask if they have any ideas to help us move forward. This vulnerability always provides results.

Being a project manager doesn’t mean we have to know all the answers. It’s often the questions we ask that are more important than knowing the answers.

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