Monday, 14 December 2009 00:00

The Honest Broker

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Objectivity is paramount. Above all Recovery Managers need to be honest brokers. They must look at every situation (before they become issues) and determine a fair and equitable approach. Allegiance to any party on the project is certain failure. Why? Recovery Managers are mediators in a negotiation process. Only fair and objective treatment of the project team, suppliers and customer will allow the recovery manager to reach an acceptable recovery goal.

A Negotiation Process

Yes, negotiation. To resolve the issue, negotiation is the primary non-technical skill required. Recovery Managers need to be in the center of a project looking honestly at both the supplier's and customer's interests in the project. They need to objectively assess the problems and conflicts and provide fair and equitable resolutions. Fact-based nonpartisan decisions will win the project participants' respect and enlist cooperation.

Case Study: The Stockholm Syndrome

Shortly into an audit, on what would turn out to be a very difficult recovery, I was working remotely from the team at the customer's site. The Project Manager entered my office and declared, "We are concerned you are experiencing the Stockholm Syndrome." Being unfamiliar with the term, I asked for clarification. The PM explained it was named after an episode that occurred in Stockholm in the 1970s when armed robbers took bank workers captive. The hostages began to identify with and grow sympathetic toward their captors.

To say the least, I was surprised that uncovering facts about the project would meet with such an analogy vilifying the customer and me. It revealed the degree of animosity in the project.

The real problem was that I was treating the customer fairly, listening to their grievances and about to uncover issues with the PM. These issues included the PM's unwillingness to address customer issues, inability to resolve problems in the project team and lack of communication with the customer, to name only three of the major problems on the project.

This is a difficult task. Being human, opinions form quickly. People like to please others and being objective in a highly partisan environment is exhausting. Recovery Managers, however, need to be agnostic. It is critical the solution is viewed as being objective and devoid of bias. Without this, the solution will be unacceptable to a large portion of the stakeholders and the Recovery Manager's job will be impossible.

Too many times the organization paying for the recovery wants the Recovery Manager's allegiance. This might seem reasonable, but partisan Recovery Managers will be unable to achieve concessions from other groups when issues arise. This will lead to more difficulties in trying to implement a solution and executing the new plan.

This is the reason enough for the Recovery Manager to report to the Steering Committee. Their duty, being a mixture of suppliers and customers, is to focus on a successful project, as opposed to laying blame or having one group edge out another.

Separate Agendas

When people have a separate agenda inside the project, friction always arises. These may be people pushing for a specific solution, trying to promote a product, service or themselves. An honest broker must meet these situations openly and honestly by asking the Steering Committee for direction. It should be a topic of discussion in meetings. A stated direction to use a product or service is not a hidden agenda. If the team is unaware of the direction, then perception is as bad as if it were reality. People should follow the direction or be removed from the project.

How About the Project Manager?

Sit back, think about this. Help me understand how this is any different from how any Project Manager (not to mention a leader) should act. The Project Manager needs to have this same objectivity. When dealing in facts, many of the common project level problems (scope creep, communication breakdowns, risk control and so forth) never become big issues. In fact, objectivity provides the Project Manager with the tools to address the big killers of projects—senior management's ineffective involvement and lack of direction. Cold, hard facts are very powerful and the most effective tool to thwart management's inaction. Reread this article and replace the 'Recovery Manager' with 'Project Manager' and you will see that everything still applies.

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