Sunday, 16 January 2011 00:00

The Consultant's Lore

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

Icon of man with datastream

"Why is it that when you get hired you are no longer the expert?" A chuckle rippled through the audience; however, the woman asking the question was serious. I turned the question back to the audience of director level managers, "Why is this the case?" There was silence. Finally, I proffered that it was management's lack of understanding the skills of the people working for them. "Who in your organization can you implicitly trust?" More silence. It is sad that organizations know so little about the people that they hired—the people on which they stake their company's future.

The Work Environment

When problems arise, the team can be classified in three groups—the accusers, the politicians, and the fixers. Each has their roll in confusing management on what the problems are and what the appropriate solution should be. The accusers lay blame and offer quick, often self-promoting, solutions. They are vocal and obstinate. Unfortunately, they lack the vision or data to make a proper assessment. The politicians say little. They try to stay out of the spotlight. Many of these people have a good grasp of the issues and even some solutions. However, they shy from the responsibility for defending or implementing their ideas. On the other hand, the fixer sees the picture and can determine the solution—given the chance. They spend time analyzing the issues and the people, and develop solutions. Regrettably, management has not spent the time to understand these traits in their staff and they have no recourse but to hire an outside party to assess the problem.

They want Pulp Fiction's Winston Wolf to come in and "solve problems." The Wolf makes problems go away. He works with the team, understands the problems, and makes the decisions that put the project back on track. Once the identified problem is corrected, the business can continue as usual ignoring the fact that management is still ignorant to its team's capabilities. The accuser, politician, and fixer are still there and management does not know whom to trust.

The Consultant's Job

In nearly all cases, the consultant's job is to simply listen. Everyone on the project has an opinion, someone needs to poll the individuals, understand their concerns, and use this data to identify the problems. When called in to rescue a problem project, one of my first tasks is to assemble the team and deliver a blunt message. I frankly tell them, "You know the problems and you know the answers. I am going to assemble that data into a solution to present to management. And, as you might expect, they will give me the credit." It is a sad and stark admission of the political truth. The earlier the team recognizes this, the sooner the project will be on the road to recovery.

At the root of this scenario is the issue that management is failing. It has been unsuccessful in assessing the team's strengths or knowing whom to trust. It is the consultant's fiduciary responsibility to highlight this as a key issue in the recovery, the project, and the organization. Rarely is the case that the lack of understanding, trust, and communication commences as the project heads into the red. It existed long before, contributing to management's inability to correct the situation prior to the project spiralling out of control.

Management's Challenge

Managers must find the time to objectively understand the capabilities of their staff. This is a primary responsibility of being a manager. They need to minimize the effect of the accusers, create an open management style where politics has no place, and leverage the strength of the fixers. It is hard work and often requires confrontation to marginalize or remove the people who create strife in the group. Simply put, organizations run much better if managers spent time with their team members differentiating between the ones that divide and the ones that unite.

Read 4528 times

Related items

  • Success vs Culture

    The other day a Latvian student contacted me for my views the connection between culture and success criteria—an important and intriguing topic. After working in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Israel, United States, and Canada, I wear many scars of both blatant and subtle cultural violations. I also know that within a culture one person's success is often another person's failure. So, after dispelling concerns about clicking on some random email link, I completed her survey (please feel free to take it yourself). In the process, I struck up a friendship with the student, Kristine Briežkalne, who is studying at Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration . She has some interesting views and presented me with a Venn diagram showing four frames to a project (business, client, project management, and growth perspectives) and how they intersected. As the diagram is part of her Master's thesis, I will let you ponder the how to label the overlapping areas (an eye-opening exercise).

  • Kill The White Knight

    There is a reason we do not teach classes on fixing failing projects. Many a cynic feels that we simply do not want to teach our trade, however, our reason is far nobler—we should be teaching prevention rather trying to create white knights to save the day. It is the same philosophy as building a fence at the cliff's edge rather than an emergency room at its base. Our language is replete with idioms telling us to look past the symptom and address problems at their root cause. 'An ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure' or 'a stitch in time saves nine.' Please, feel free to supply your own in the comments. Unfortunately, most of our businesses loathe this philosophy, waiting to address an issue until it is irrefutably broken.

  • The Executive-Project Manager Gap

    It was such an innocuous question, "Working on an article; what is the biggest problem you see with project governance at orgs? Can you comment?" Can I comment? Really? That is like cheese to a mouse. Where could I start—bureaucracy, draconian process, poor executive sponsorship, disengaged leaders? Plenty of fodder, because they all lead to project failure. I fired off, "Creating an over bureaucratic morass stifling innovation & implementing process instead of cultivating leaders." Then the maelstrom started and it went directly to the gap between the executives and projects managers. Naomi Caietti, Robert Kelly and I had a great conversation. Most of the thread is below.

  • Disband Your PMO

    After nearly 30 years of project work, I struggle to understand the role of a project management office (PMO). Even though, I have written of the pros and cons, and read a plethora of articles, opinions, and how-to guides little has been done to convince me that the PMO is reducing project failure. It seems to be nothing more than a tool to fill a void in leadership? Even the acronym, which is so widely thrown around, has little meaning as the "P" has no less than four meanings. It is an executive's crutch for their lack of understanding in how projects work. These, like other, unattended holes in the corporate accountability create opportunities for new and greater bureaucracies and empires that further obfuscate accountability.

  • Strategic Alignment: The Key To Project Success

    Buy it now!

    Project success rates for many companies and government organizations are dismally low, yet executives never seem to look at the big picture. They continue to make adjustments in the way projects are run by addressing isolated problems. However, projects are part of a much larger system and should be addressed in that context. To do that, companies must define how their strategic plan will use people, projects, and technology to achieve their goals. This paper discusses one approach to make this happen.

Leave a comment

More Info on Project Recovery

Tell me More!

Please send me more information
on fixing a failing project.

Rescue The Problem Project

Internationally acclaimed

Image of RPP

For a signed and personalized copy in the US visit the our eCommerce website.

Amazon logo
Buy it in the United States Buy it in Canada Buy it in the United Kingdom
Buy it in Ireland Buy it in Germany Buy it in France
Buy it in Italy Buy it in the PRC
Buy it in Japan
Book sellers worldwide.

Upcoming Events

Other's References

Sitemap