I Don’t Know Everything… Do You?

I don’t know everything. In fact, I don’t know a lot of things. But what I do know, I know really well. That’s the secret to running projects and programs which deliver what you want.

I’ve written about this topic a lot recently. Specifically focusing on how PM’s get distracted and work on the outcome they think is best, and not the outcome the sponsor wants.

Maybe it’s rocket science. Surely if it wasn’t more people would be able to do it. More projects would be deemed a success by the people who commissioned them

Alas, the prevailing belief by project managers is that their projects are almost always successful. Ask them, they’ll tell you. Even if their tone is a little defensive, they’ll tell you they’ve succeeded and any opinion to the contrary is attributable to things other than their management. Yet, in any group of C-Suite Executives the conversation about projects and programs is the opposite. They’re frustrated, unhappy, baffled, bewildered and sometimes just plain angry.

Clearly there is a disconnect which sits at two levels. The first disconnection is between what the project/program manager believes success is and what the commissioner (sponsor) knows success to be. The second disconnect relates to what each party believes the project or program managers role is.

Addressing these disconnects won’t on their own ensure success. But unless they’re addressed we’re consigned to continuing to live in the parallel universes of the perceived success and failure.

How do you do it? How do you repair the disconnects?

It’s not easy, yet it’s essential – but only if you want things to be different.

The first thing is to be brave. You as the sponsor or you as the project/program manager need to take the time to really talk through the project. You both need to fearlessly discuss what the end result will be. You need to agree who gets to declare success (a hint: it’s not the PM), you need to agree on what will be happening when that success is declared, what will be available; and will the project end at launch or after a period of proving? What will people be saying, what will they be hearing; and what will they be seeing and doing?

This step is hard. It’s so much easier for a sponsor to say something like “we need this product launched by x date”. It’s really easy for the project manager to say “okay I’ll make that happen”. If you’re in one of those conversations – stop! Do not continue… and if you do I can write the end of the story from here and you won’t like it.

The next step takes professionalism and respect. Whether you’re the sponsor or the PM, if you doubt the other person is understanding you, then stop and start again. If you’ve done that a couple of times and you aren’t progressing, dissolve the partnership, (and it should be a partnership). Dissolve it with respect and affording dignity, but dissolve it nonetheless.

How do you know if you need to dissolve it? Here are some signs to look for:
The PM says things like “don’t worry, once we get the plan sorted you’ll understand the process more”; or the sponsor says “let’s just get going and we’ll work out the end point along the way”. There are many more of these signs. I call them signs because you can pick them up and address them before you have to address the symptoms.

As I said at the start, getting this right isn’t going to ensure success. However, not getting it right will ensure frustration, anger, time cannibalized from other activities, a need to secure additional funding as the project progresses, and missed opportunity when the outcome isn’t what you want.