Contingency People Planning: Working with the Dark Side

Halloween Bonus:
What Do These 3 Tales Have in Common?

Devil with 3 tailsPM Horror Stories 5, 6, and 7

  • The Incompetent Estimator
  • The Messy Contributor
  • The “Gotcha!” Boss

The Incompetent Estimator

Jeff often missed his deadlines.  It was a known fact.  So as I approached his cube, I knew what his answer would be:

One Zombie“Jeff, how long will it take for you to proofread this code?”

“Well it all depends.  How many lines are there?  Who wrote it?  When do you need to know?  Let me look it over first.  When do you need it done by?

The Horror: Unfortunately this time Jeff’s response was not so respectful.  “I’ll get it done when I get it done!  The previous project manager never required an estimate from me.  Why do I need to give one to you now?”  The truth is no one has ever obtained a definitive estimate from Jeff.  Jeff may be able to write decent code, but he sure as heck can’t estimate task durations!  His “estimates” put our entire project in jeopardy.

The Messy Contributor

Andy’s status reports were, in my opinion, highly unprofessional.  His last one had 11 typos in 3 pages!  That’s just unacceptable.  So I called him on it.

Messy Deliverable 2“Andy, I expect high quality work from everyone on the team.  Your last status report had too many typos in it.  Could you please resubmit it to me before the end of the day today?”

“I’m kind of busy right now working on a critical task due later this week.  Do you want me to stop what I’m doing just to clean up a few minor typing mistakes?  I don’t think so: ”

So once again, I made the corrections for him before sending it along to the team.

The Horror:  A few weeks later Andy asked me to forward along a recommendation he had written asking management to spend $100K to fix a problem.  Although I had previously given him a template for such requests, he simply ignored the format.  Whole sections were left out and required elements were unaddressed.  Unfortunately, there was not enough time to rewrite it, and I had to forward it on to management: mistakes and all.  Aaargh!

The Gotcha Boss

Kathy seemed clearly threatened.  I noticed it right away when I was first assigned to her team to provide a more disciplined approach to project management.  Just asking for input on a project charter would send her into a tirade about how much time I was wasting on something no one would ever use.

Bad ManagerThe Horror:  Unfortunately things went from bad to worse.  Kathy would continue to berate me whenever I talked to her about standardizing the forms and tools we used to manage our projects.

Before long she began bad mouthing me in front of other team members.  I heard about rumors she was spreading, and reports of what she was saying about me behind my back.  I eventually filed a complaint of harassment and learned that she had been actively trying to get me fired!  What a nightmare!

So what do these 3 tales have in common? … The writing was on the wall.

All three of these situations could have been anticipated:

  • The Incompetent Estimator was known for missing deadlines
  • The Messy Contributor had a history of shoddy work
  • The Gotcha Boss displayed warning signs on day one

And each of these situations could have been improved by employing “Contingency People Planning: Working with the Dark Side”

As project managers we know how important it is to consider the project risks – the potential barriers related to time, scope, and budget.  But what about the people side of the equation?  How often do we consider and plan for the interpersonal risks of project management?  As these tales indicate, not often enough!

Consider your team members, sponsor, stakeholders, vendors, and customers.

  • What are the risks of working with each person?
  • What is the probability this will happen?
  • What is the potential impact?
  • How could you help prevent high-probability, high-impact risks from happening?
  • What will you do when it happens?
  • What are the triggers and metrics to watch?

Granted, you might not want to share this analysis with everyone on your team.  But you do want to be prepared when the inevitable Dark Side appears.

darth-vaderDoug Bedinger
“Helping individuals, project teams, and whole organizations work better together.”


2 thoughts on “Contingency People Planning: Working with the Dark Side”

  1. User Avatar

    Great post!

    The incompetent estimator – perhaps…but maybe the project manager should be helping with tools to make the estimation process smooth.

    The Messy Contributor – in my experience, some people can write and proof-read as they go. When I make a typo, it’s like I get a small point of pain in my brain somewhere that doesn’t go away until I fix it. I’m convinced that many others just don’t work the same way. For those, I make sure someone else is proofreading….in fact, it’s not a bad idea to make it a consistent process for everyone as quality control.

    Josh Nankivel
    pmStudent on twitter

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