Guest Post by Malcolm Peart (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
You’ve started a new project; or joined one that’s up and running or it’s nearing closure – and it’s going well. With no problems to speak of, it’s business as usual; so stick to the plan and it will be all right in the end ‘cos nothing can go wrong.
Or perhaps there are problems; but all projects have problems! It’s not your problem as the bid team, planning team, or those awkward stakeholders and ever present over demanding clients can be blamed.
The project will eventually get finished if it’s on, or off, the rails. The project is ‘just a job’ and management just carry on clocking-in and clocking-out regardless of the situation.
The project becomes ‘just a job’ and the management team ‘go with the flow’ rather than looking for risk and challenging the status quo in an effort to resolve issues before they become problems. An unsolved problem merely means that the project will be extended. If the project is in a hole it’s easier to keep digging, blindly follow process, keep reporting and be seen to be doing something.
Such satisfactory underperformance does not contribute anything to real progress nor does it add any value. Progress meetings become rituals where blame is apportioned, countered, and argued. Problems are “talked about” as we go through the motions of project management without really managing the project and making things happen.
Complacency, routine, and ritual result in a lack of enthusiasm and loss of drive which are recognisable symptoms of ‘just a job’. The team(s) do not adapt to the dynamics of the project and become passengers who are just along for the ride.
The project becomes ‘business as usual’ – but projects are not business, they make business. Projects are unique, temporary endeavours within a limited duration that create a product or service.
“Business as usual’ may result in members of the team leaving as they become disillusioned. Some organisations inevitably find out that their project is failing and, as the scapegoats are targeted, and teams are eventually reorganised, the good people who have not already left, leave.
So how can we avoid such complacency on a project? It’s ABC – Attitude, Behaviour and Consequences.
A positive attitude towards time and focussing on the job in hand is essential. Cultivating a culture that believes fixing today’s problem tomorrow is too late; yesterday is over; tomorrow never comes; and the right time to do it is NOW! are essential. “Better late than never” never delivered anything on time.
You need a similar attitude towards risk management. Zero tolerance towards procrastination and avoiding analysis-paralysis while promoting initiative is also essential. This requires moral fortitude and “asking for forgiveness’ is the order of the day rather than a genuflecting “request for permission”. This promotes a culture of ‘can do’ rather than ‘may be’ and those people who ‘forgive’ instil that culture.
“The more I practice…the luckier I seem to get” is well known in golfing circles but the same is also true in Project Management. The more a PM reviews the project the more is known about the project. Such behaviour results in keeping one’s finger on the pulse, regularly assessing the situation, and seeing ‘anomalies’ and emerging issues.
PMs who apply their own experience (and that of others), and make timely and (hopefully) good decisions will have positive consequences on the project as well as the project team. And if the project is in a hole, the PM must have the guts to order “stop digging”; then take a geographic approach to map a route out of the hole rather than arguing the difficulty and researching a history to the problem.
Projects that become business as usual are breeding grounds for complacency and there is a real risk that the project could be well off the rails and in a deep hole before anybody realises it.
Blindly following processes and procedures, reflecting on the past and not keeping your finger on the pulse will not allow project risks to be recognised. Issues will not be identified, and the positive action required to solve problems in a timely manner will be late.
If the project has become ‘just a job’…then it’s not really a project anymore.
MBA, MSc DIC, BSc; Chartered Engineer, Chartered Geologist, PMP
Over thirty years’ experience on large multidisciplinary infrastructure projects including rail, metro systems, airports, roads, marine works and reclamation, hydropower, tunnels and underground excavations.
Project management; design & construction management; and contract administrative in all project phases from feasibility, planning & design, procurement, implementation, execution and completion on Engineer’s Design and Design & Build schemes.
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