>Project Failure, Why People Can’t Own Up

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I saw this funny/sad Dilbert cartoon on project management by Scott Adams (BTW, he’s terrific!).

It goes like this:

Office colleague (water cooler talk): How’s your project coming along?

Dilbert: It’s a steaming pile of failure. It’s like fifteen drunken monkeys with a jigsaw puzzle.

New scene….

Boss: How’s your project coming along?

Dilbert: Fine.

END

This common work scenario is sort of like a game of truth or dare: you either have to tell the project truth or take the dare and do something embarrassing like proceed with the project that isn’t on track.

Teammates, colleagues, peers often talk frankly and honestly about the problems with their projects and often the talk may become sarcastic or even somewhat cynical, because they know that they can’t tell their bosses what is REALLY going on.

What a shame in terms of lost opportunities to communicate, solve problems, and drive project success for the organization.

People are afraid to be honest, direct, tell the truth, and work together with their management on constructive solutions.

Instead, people simply say everything is fine, period.

Sort of like when your boss asks politely at work how are you doing? And rather than say, well I woke up late, missed my train, spilled coffee on my tie, and am having trouble meeting my deadlines this week, the person almost always replies, reflexively, “I’m fine” and “How are you?”

Another manifestation of the it’s fine syndrome is with executive dashboards or project scorecard reviews where virtually all the metrics show up as “green”, even when you know they are not—does yellow or red sound too scary to have to put on paper/screen and explain to the boss.

We are conditioned NOT to talk casually or to report to our superiors about issues, problems, or anything that can be perceived as negative, least they be labeled as trouble-makers or “the problem,” rather than the solution. Ultimately, employees don’t want to be blamed for the failures, so they would rather hide the truth then own up to the project issues, and work constructively with their management on solutions or course correction—before it’s too late.

Now isn’t that a novel idea? Management and staff working together, actually identifying the issues—proactively and in forthright manner—and working together to resolve them, rather than sitting across the table, sugar-coating or pointing the accusatory finger.

People have to take responsibility and own up when there is a problem and be willing to talk about them with their management, and management needs to encourage frankness, a “no surprises” culture, and a team-collaborative environment to solving problems rather than instilling fear in their employees or implicitly or explicitly communicating that they only want to hear “good news.”

Good news is not good news when it’s fabricated, a distortion, or a complete sham.

A culture of teamwork, collaboration, honesty, and integrity is the underpinning of project success. If everything in the project “is fine”, it’s probably not.

One response to “>Project Failure, Why People Can’t Own Up

  1. >Great post! One thing I've done with larger teams in the past are anonymous surveys where I ask them what they are worried about ( to uncover risks ) and what obstacles are in their way. Face to face is ALWAYS best, but I've found some are too conditioned to "put on a happy face" and this can help get around that barrier.Josh NankivelpmStudent.com

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