This week on the Maximizing IT/IS Team Effectiveness course I am taking with Villanova University we looked at managing expectations. There was a whole lecture on damage control, which could have been subtitled When Project Managers Lie About Progress.
I once worked with a contract project manager who routinely reported that all his tasks were 80% complete at the weekly status meeting. I’m sure you know people who do the same, and projects that have overrun because project issues have only been uncovered at a late date. So why do people fail to communicate lack of progress effectively?
“They conceal known problems because that reduces the need for iteration in the short term,” said Lou Russell, the lecturer. People put off dealing with the issues as it means they don’t have to do extra work right now. Here are some other reasons for failing to tell to the truth about project status:
- Concealing problems makes your job feel more secure as it reduces the likelihood that senior management will intervene
- It seems like the project is higher quality than it really is
- You delay coordinating a recovery effort and rework because you feel that there will be more resources available to deal with the problem in the future; it reduces peak resource requirements
- Hiding rework requirements increases the chance that schedule delays can be absorbed into other phases
- You cross your fingers and hope another area of the project will overrun, thus masking your problem or providing more time to resolve it
- It appears to improve schedule performance which means critical deadlines can be met
“There are lots of really good reasons to lie but the outcome of lying is a disaster for projects,” she said.
Lou shared research with us that showed that project managers who conceal the situation on a late project typically overrun by the entire duration of the planned work – in other words, the project takes twice as long.
Project managers who are completely transparent tend to suffer from project delays early in the schedule. However, this forces them to have the difficult conversations earlier, build strong relationships, and they tend to find ways to make up the time.
Dealing with disaster
Here are some of the options available to help you get a failing project back on track.
- When in trouble, communicate
- Tell the truth, and keep telling it until people hear it
- Tell bad news early
- Ask for help from people who can help, or anyone who can help.
- Take responsibility
- Push big scope decisions back to the customer; take them a proposal but it’s their decision
- Isolate the existing people from distractions instead of adding more people
- Escalate if necessary
Next week is the last week in the course, which means the final assessment is due. Wish me luck!