Project Management Institute

Debunking bunk


by NEAL WHITTEN, PMP, Contributing Editor

There is much more to learn within the project management profession than meets the eye of the casual practitioner. Many lessons become clear once we have been exposed to them. Over the years, I've learned—sometimes painfully—that the following beliefs are false:

If you don't lead project members, they will lead themselves. Most project members require someone to direct them in creating plans, tracking progress and mitigating problems. People and teams typically do not function as effectively as possible when left to their own devices. Strong leadership is a prerequisite for consistent success.

Run the project by agreement. Consensus management often reduces the personal level of accountability across a team. Members hide behind the facade of the team. The best decisions are often sacrificed for decisions that everyone can live with. Running a team on consensus is akin to running a motor on idle—it can work but optimal effectiveness will remain out of reach. Instead, manage through the concept of benevolent dictatorship, actively soliciting information and opinions from team members and others. Project managers must listen, demonstrate the leadership, courage and boldness to personally make the right decision, and then stand accountable for that decision.

If you treat others with respect and dignity, they will respond in kind. Most people will, but there are a few folks out there who defy civil norms. Learn to recognize who is trustworthy and whom you don't want as a part of your team.

You can trust the planning and reporting of your project members. Never trust anyone on a project. Require proof with data or exhibits to support a claim. How many times do you have to hear that someone is 90 percent finished before you realize that they're only 50 percent complete?

Manage your day by the plethora of interruptions that come your way. Instead, manage your day by focusing on your top three priorities. It is the top three that define the truly important and urgent problems and where your time can be invested most effectively.

Committed dates are fixed. Commitments should be viewed as sacred ground. However, if a person believes that a commitment cannot ever be revised—and the promise is in jeopardy—then the tendency is to deny or ignore that there's trouble and, thus, avoid corrective action. Better to admit a problem, create a fix and be marginally late, than to ignore the problem and suffer far greater damage.

The grass is greener elsewhere. If you believe that management is the root cause of most problems, then you may look for greener pastures to graze. You will likely find the grass not to be as green as you thought because the problems are most likely related to you. If you are not willing to dig in and be a project management leader, you will bring the same problems to your new organization or company.

Project culture is the responsibility of management. The project will be planned, tracked, communicated and nurtured according to the best practices that the project manager employs. No one is in a better position to shape the culture than the project manager. PM

Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group, is a speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor and author. His books include The Enter Prize Organization: Organizing Software Projects for Accountability and Success, published by PMI®.


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