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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Executive Apathy and Project Failure

Ever had a project that begins with strong executive/senior management support and over time that support fades?

The symptoms are:

Executives/senior management remain silent during status meetings

Executives/senior management stop coming to status meetings and don't ask for meeting minutes

Executives/senior management lack a sense of urgency regarding "your" project

Executives/senior management become more confused and less supportive over time regarding project goals and objectives

Executives/senior management begin to focus on what has been "installed" vs. what business results have been realized

The project sponsor(s) becomes detached and less available for project updates

Executives, sponsors, and stakeholders start to forget the culture and try to force solutions to meet deadlines

I know first hand that executives/senior management will tell you they support your project, and then turnaround and encourage resistance in their departments, and allow or ignore passive-aggressive behaviors of key staff members regarding the project's goals and objectives. What can be done? Here are some ideas; however you must realize that your project is in serious trouble if you have observed the behaviors listed above.

Calculate the costs of the project so far. Consider scaling back the project or killing it all together. I know from experience that this is much easier said than done.

Identify key executives and stakeholders and meet with them personally and restate the projects benefits. If they still aren't sold or supportive, move on to the next group. Ensure you create a Scope Change and de-scope portions of the project that aren't getting support.

Reevaluate the project team. Do you need new people? Are they really focused on meeting the project's objectives and scope? Are the project's objectives and scope still realistic, attainable and relevant?

Reevaluate the organization's culture and re-plan the project if needed. Reset expectations, and identify sources of resistance. If the culture can't be changed quickly, perhaps the project's objectives, goals, and/or scope need to be adjusted.

Remember, project failure rests on the project manager's shoulders. Sometimes senior management is too busy to get or stay involved, however that doesn't release them from their responsibility to support your project. Determine if they are too busy or just too lazy to support your project. Not easy to do, but absolutely necessary.

Remember what Dr. Stephen Covey says is the 4th Discipline (The 4 Disciplines of Execution) - "Hold Each Other Accountable - All of the Time". If you are a project manager it is your job to hold all levels of the organization accountable for project success. Having said that, you must proceed with caution if you plan to do this with executives. Be tactful and respectful; however, don't let them off the hook.

A recent survey found that only 39 percent of workers feel highly energized and committed to their organization's most important goals. This survey includes executives and senior managers. Just because they have the title doesn't mean they will behave responsibly or be focused on doing the right things right!

Executives, senior management, and your project sponsor(s) may say they support you and your project, but it is up to you to figure out if they really are being supportive. Silence is not acceptance when it comes to dealing with the decision makers. When they stop asking questions, you are in deep trouble.

No Involvement = No Commitment.

2 comments:

Raven said...

Excellent post on how stakeholder/executive failure can impact a project. I also liked your suggestions for managing up to keep senior execs and key stakeholders informed and actively involved! One of the best quotes:

"No Involvement = No Commitment."

Project Management Templates said...

Well... one of the main reasons for failure is because there is a lack of consideration for the magnitude and complexities of project management and consequently there is a natural inclination to attack it piece meal. As a result of the bulletin I have been asked as to what criteria I would use to evaluate a PM package.