Project Management Institute

Interior Motives

Is There an Enemy Lurking Inside Your Project?



By Fred Wenger III, PMP

Project managers are accustomed to looking outside their projects for risks—at competitors, clients, suppliers, the economy, even the weather. But experience has taught me that all projects face a threat from inside the organization. This threat can come from the project delivery team, the project manager, the organization's culture or its processes.

These self-inflicted errors can erode profit, degrade performance and derail a project. Here are a few areas project managers should keep an eye on during different project phases:

Initiation: The internal threat is often a lack of understanding or buy-in among senior leadership and other stakeholders.

Planning: The lack of a clear end state and an ill-defined scope are common, leading to scope creep, budget problems and schedule slippage.

Execution: A team that is not empowered to solve its own problems can be the biggest threat.

Monitoring and closing: The most serious risk could be you. The project manager's lack of attention to the team's activities can lead to missed deadlines and poor project quality. And not collecting lessons learned can result in threats to the next project.


How can we fight against these internal threats? It starts with complete commitment by the project manager to the project's successful outcome. Next, the project manager must drive detailed and open project planning. He or she is responsible for ensuring all stakeholders agree on the outcomes and have the information they need. When forming the team, the project manager must empower all members to act independently. Team members need to understand they are responsible for their tasks and accountable for their outcomes.

Stress-test the project to identify challenges it could face; ask the team, “What could go wrong?” Once those risks are identified, teams must deal with them as soon as possible—delayed resolution never improves outcome. During my team meetings, I focus on task production. I even call them “production” meetings to emphasize the need to complete tasks to move the project forward.

Finally, I have always found that internal threats do not do well in a communication-rich environment. Communication can make or break a project. The project manager must pull information from the team and push it to stakeholders and ensure everyone involved remains informed throughout the project's life cycle.

In project management, the best defense against internal threats is a good offense. And a good offense starts with the project manager and a team built with informed, empowered and accountable project professionals. PM

img Fred Wenger III, PMP, is associate vice president, program and construction management, Louis Berger, Washington, D.C., USA.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.



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