Simple-minded Organizations Create Project Failure

Having lived in Florida 30 years, I have had encounters with all kinds of snakes and even had a five-foot alligator that occasionally sunned itself by one of my palm trees. I asked my new neighbor how long he had lived in Florida. He replied that he had lived in Florida before and this surprised me because he leaves his garage door open hours at a time. I told him that I have already caught four small snakes this year in my garage with glue traps and I keep my garage door closed, only leaving a very small crack on the side of the door at its base, because like most garage doors it doesn’t seal perfectly. He thanked me, but still keeps his garage door open for hours at a time.  I have no doubt that he has multiple snakes somewhere in that garage and one day he and a snake will find each other and after that day, I suspect he will keep his garage door closed.

There are individuals and organizations that cannot learn from the mistakes and experience of others, they must experience it for themselves.

Organizations that can learn from the mistakes and experience of others are smart and those that have to find a snake for themselves are simple-minded. The character of these simple-minded organizations is that they cannot learn until there is actual pain. They can’t learn unless they personally experience the bad outcome.

Project management is not complicated. However, to excel at project management it does require thinking, upfront planning, and discipline. Thinking, planning and discipline is difficult for some organizations especially when there is always an important meeting or emergency to be handled and any type of activity is viewed as progress.

The tenets that generate a successful project management culture have been around decades, if not centuries. Unfortunately, that tired, overused, worn out axiom “There is never time to do it right, but always time to do it over” holds true in a lot of organizations and they don’t want to properly invest in upfront planning, the schedule is too tight for that, there are not enough resources for it.

Sadly, a lot of project failure results from organizationally self-inflicted wounds.

It is not always the customer that causes the biggest challenges for many project managers, the biggest challenges frequently come from the “friendly fire” generated by their own organization’s culture and stakeholders. A project manager must always find different communication methods to show stakeholders the consequences (pain) of circumstances (decisions, lack of decisions, unrealistic goals, inadequate resources, etc.) well before the circumstances arise.

This does not mean the organization will act and when the organization doesn’t listen and the bad circumstances occur, the project manager should gracefully, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, remind the organizational leaders the situation could have been avoided. When the organization stubs its toe on an avoidable obstacle it’s the project manager’s job to keep “accidentally” stepping on that toe to remind them we could have avoided this and let’s not do it again. This is simply holding the organization and leadership accountable.

Project managers need to be delivery focused for the project but they also must contribute their part to help change the culture of simple-minded organizations to a smart organization. This type of change is not immediate and usually doesn’t occur after one mistake but after many and a history should be maintained showing this over time with the consequences of each and where the problems are systemic. Intentionally, accidentally, step on those toes, say “oops” and then graciously apologize.

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Posted by Dr. James Brown in Discpline, Program Management, Project Management, Stakeholder Management.


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