The current impasse over resolving the U.S. debt ceiling issue and the resulting shutdown of the government brings to mind an unfortunate tendency on the part of some project managers to focus on winning arguments or on resolving conflicts in their favor at all costs.
This behavior is rarely intended to be self-serving as those project managers are operating with what they perceive as being the project’s best interests in mind. While this can result in short term tactical benefits to the project, it may also create longer term issues to the project or to the project manager themselves.
Examples of this habit include:
- Progressively escalating conflicts with team members and their functional managers when performance or communication concerns are identified
- A single-minded, overly aggressive focus on avoiding scope changes (even in those cases where the scope changes are necessary)
- Conflicts with peer project managers over the allocation or availability of shared resources
- Aggressively pushing for deliverable acceptance or project closure even when the customer is unhappy with what has been delivered
On the surface, these might all appear to be reasonable tactics aimed at protecting the triple constraint.
Unfortunately, they might also result in one or more of the following unintended consequences:
- Reduced individual team member or overall team morale resulting from bruised egos – this will translate into productivity impacts
- Strained relationships with key functional managers. While they might grudgingly go along with a short term tactic which is not in their team’s best interests, they will also be much less likely in the future to invest any of their influence or political “capital” in supporting the project manager. This can be especially dangerous in functional or weak matrix structured organizations.
- Contractual correctness but reduced customer satisfaction. This in turn reduces the likelihood of that customer providing repeat business or of acting as a positive reference for the company’s products or services.
- Impacts to relations with one’s peer project managers. This can be lethal in companies with lower levels of organizational project management maturity as it might result in complete isolation or ostracism of the offending project manager.
Don’t misunderstand me – I am not a fan of weak project managers as they can be a greater source of risk to projects than overly strong project managers.
Project management is like poker – you have to know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em.