Don’t be a hero!

heroWhat’s the first thing you envision when you hear the word “hero”?  It might be a firefighter, a knight, Superman, Spiderman, or some other real or imaginary larger-than-life character or role.

Even though the list of heroes is infinite, it’s a safe bet that the role of a project manager is unlikely to be the top pick for most people!

However unlikely this idea of a project manager as a hero might be, sometimes project managers and their teams have to perform acts of heroism to get their projects completed successfully.  When this occurs on an exception basis, the project manager and their team should be recognized for collectively pulling off a miracle.

Unfortunately, there is a dark side to being a hero.

If a company’s culture is overly fond of heroics while providing minimal recognition for those who are able to get their projects completed as expected without unnatural acts, a clear message is sent that it is better to be a hero than to be a reliable, predictable project team.  You can identify this culture at the water cooler – “Did you hear about the ACME team?  No, what happened?  They pulled off another all-nighter both days this weekend!  What would we do without them?

In such environments, the project teams who thrive on such accolades might plan and manage their projects so that heroics are required on a regular basis.  After all, what’s a good hero story without a villain, and if there are no villains left to fight, sometimes those who are addicted to being heroes have to create them.

This type of behavior might not be done consciously, but it can be detected through the marginalization or total elimination of risk management, taking short cuts on other good project management practices or by a willingness and even eagerness to commit to schedule and cost constraints before sufficient due diligence has been spent in validating their realism.

The problem with this is two-fold:

  • Being a hero doesn’t encourage a good work-life balance and it’s unlikely that everyone on the team has signed up for performing heroics on a frequent basis.
  • Luck runs out – even for the most capable heroes, and when it does on projects, the organization bears the brunt of the fall out.

So recognize heroic behavior, but communicate a balanced message encouraging the learning of lessons so that similar heroics are not required in the future.  And, handsomely reward the project teams which plan and deliver their projects predictably.

As Christopher Reeve said “What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely.”

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Don’t be a hero!

  1. David Turnbull

    I love what you’re saying. Unfortunately in many entrepreneurial companies or those headed by dynamic leaders, there’s a certain antsiness that festers when things simply get done. If not because of the seeming effortlessness of trouncing the competition, then because of lurking concerns that wins could have been achieved quicker.


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