Sunday, 01 November 2009 00:00

Finding Religion, Trusting Leadership

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The project team has an obligation to tell leadership or the customer when they think the direction of the project is wrong. However, at some point the team must follow management. They have to trust management has the insight to know what needs to be done. I call this "Finding Religion." People must act on faith believing the direction is best for the company. This is often contrary to data that is in front of the team and indicates another direction.

Case Study: Strategic or Tactical

A project was in Phase Two of a previously recovered project. It consisted of the prior project's supplier and customer members. The customer's requirements analyst was aggressively addressing the previous issue of scope creep.

However, the inception documents clearly requested an "extremely tactical solution" to fix issues with an existing system. The architect defined a solution that moved the system to a different platform and enhanced the prior project's product to provide the functionality. In doing this, multiple tasks were added to the task list. One titled "Refactor Struts to JSF" looked as if it was stepping outside the tactical definition. The Project Manager determined that the time for updating the base of the prior project's product and moving current functionality to a different platform was more than twice the time of updating the existing older architecture product.

The architect felt staying with the old architecture was, in his words, "wrong for the company." Ensuring an extensible and reusable system was a noble concept, but outside the budget and timeline allotted for the project. After escalation, senior management assigned a new technical team to update the older technology.

Some team members can be stuck in the thought that management is too far from the implementation to know what is right. Management, however, has a much better view of all the initiatives of the company. They know how to achieve the best utilization of resources to meet the overall goals of the company. The sad part is that many team members refuse to listen. If there is not trust, they must be told, often by management, to follow a direction.

This obstinate behavior can be difficult to detect and manifests itself in people continually working on scope that management has removed from the project.

Sell or Tell

Project manager must work the fine line between sell and tell. They must act like a leader and get the team to follow the direction, even without the overall corporate vision. If that fails, the only recourse is to lay down the law.

At the same time, the project manager must ensure management understands the concerns of the team. In case the direction is incorrect, then he or she has the delicate task of ensuring appropriate mitigation plans are available. This cannot look like second guessing management.

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