Self-induced Insanity

screamingwoman.jpgMore self-inflicted project wounds . . .

Some project managers seem to think that projects should proceed in a sensible and reasonable fashion, enjoying the cooperation and support of executives, team members, vendors and customers. Not so! Team members are put on this earth to ignore voice mails, email and action item due dates. Executives are on the planet to consistently demand impossible schedules with inadequate resources. Vendors exist to provide defective parts and an unresponsive corrective action process. And customers live to churn out nebulous requirements that they will change faster than the speed of progress on the project. But when these blisters erupt on the butts of their projects, some project managers let such things undermine their good mental health, torturing themselves with thoughts of how terrific the project would be if it weren’t for these problems.

There’s a tale of a man who walked down a road where there was a giant hole in it, and fell in. The next day he walked down the same road, saw the hole, but fell in anyhow. The next day . . . he took a different road. This story contains a lesson for every project manager who finds themselves saying things like “I’ve asked them repeatedly to . . .”, “They always do this . . .”, or “This can’t be happening again . . .” These phrases can apply to any number of things, like executives who don’t provide the resources they promised, team members who don’t return phone calls or reply to email, or engineers who don’t sufficiently test their designs before passing them on to the next stage of the process. But project managers are not paid to deal with ideal scenarios where people comply with the standards of sensible projects or bend their behaviors to the will of the project leader. Their job is to overcome some decidedly unproductive natural tendencies of human beings in pursuit of a result that’s worth their effort.

Repeated irritations and frustrations are not interruptions of our project management duties, they ARE our project management duty. Once we get the team waltzing toward a clear shared goal and working a reasonable plan our jobs are pretty much all about dealing with ridiculous problems that wouldn’t happen if everyone just did what they were supposed to do when they were supposed to do it. Rather than eye-rolling, shoulder-shrugging and generally taking on the role of a victim, a capable project leader says “OK, that didn’t work, now what?” and gets on to the next idea of how to get executives to support the project, team members to do what they promise, vendors to make good on their commitments and customers to stop making endless changes.

Certainly there’s no better way to test your tolerance of other human beings than leading a project. But when we find ourselves falling into the same hole over and over again it’s time to ask why we aren’t taking a different road rather than driving ourselves insane with thoughts of how well things would be working if only someone else would change their behavior. Failing to do just moves us one step closer to sitting in a rocker wrapped in a blanket staring listlessly into space while the chemicals take effect.

– Kimberly Wiefling, Author of Scrappy Project Management: The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces, hovering among the top project management books in the USA since launch last fall.


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