Psst, Let’s Not Call This A Project

This blog is a conversation with a prospective client that I thought was topical for project people (all names removed to protect privacy).

Client: “Can we do this without calling it a project or program?”

Me: “We can, but why do you ask?”

Client: “If I call it a project or program I have to involve the PMO, they insist on reports and paperwork that add no value to me at all; and they insist on approving all my decisions”

Me: “I’m sure they’re trying to help”

Client: “I know and most of the executives seem to be okay with having someone outside their area dictate stuff, when it’s the execs on the line for success”

Me: “So you don’t mind what they do, just that they dictate without taking responsibility?”

Client: “Yes and if they took responsibility and accountability off me they could do what they want.
But it’s my job and my results that get measured. If I fail no one will listen to the excuse that the PMO made me do it. Look at Essendon, the coach told them to do it but they’ve been held accountable. It’s the same here and I don’t want the overhead or the interference”

Me: “So who do you want to run this”?

Client: “You”

Me: “Well, I’m a PM and I run a PM company, but you would still be accountable”

Client: “But from what X tells me you do something different”

(At this stage I’m getting nervous and I’m starting to plan an exit strategy from the conversation and the client).

The Client continues: “X told me you have a different approach, he said you ‘get’ what he wants and just make it happen”

Me: “That’s true but I still use some of the fundamentals of project and program management”
Client: “Let me ask you this, do you use stop light reports?”

(Surely this is a trick question).

Me: “That’s not a clear cut question. The answer depends on the prevailing ‘rules’ within the organisation. If they have a PMO that insists, or a client has become indoctrinated to think they equal project management, then yes I use them. However, I don’t like them as standalone reporting tools and I always provide a report that shows actual progress. In my reporting I don’t allow percentage complete, we’ve either completed something or we haven’t. Is that what you’re referring to?”

Client: “Yes, X said he always knows where the project is actually up to and what he needs to do to help”
Me: “I do have some approaches that help with that”

Client: “So will you do it”?

Me: “Just so I’m clear, we’re thinking about running a program under the radar so you can be sure it succeeds?”

Client: “Yes, exactly!”

Me: “Okay, have you thought about the politics of resourcing outside the ‘rules’?”

Client: “Absolutely, I’ve even got the CFO onside to approve this as an experiment”

Me: “How will you manage the people on the sides who will want this experiment to fail?”

Client: “I’m trusting you’re good at that” (followed by a wide grin).

The conversation went on for a further hour while we discussed the nitty gritty of the program and the ‘special’ challenges I foresee with this. In the end I said yes and we’re talking again today to move it forward. This will indeed be an interesting experiment. I’m convinced the project will deliver – we do that whether we use the ‘rules and tools’ or not. What will be interesting is to see how the organisation responds. I’ll update this as we progress.