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Monday, October 09, 2006

Projects, Leaders, and Discipline

One of the things that hurt project teams most is the lack of an enterprise (executive) focus and oversight regarding the management of projects. It takes discipline to manage projects, and enterprise project discipline is lacking when executives are disinterested or disengaged. Great organizations (not project managers) manage projects well, and in doing so they have employees with higher morale, they get better project results, and implement projects faster with higher quality.

So why don't more organizations keep closer tabs on their projects at the enterprise level? Some would say the executives are too busy strategizing, and the projects are running just fine without their oversight. I think people that say this are fooling themselves and have little to no project management discipline. The data is clear that projects are delivered faster, cheaper, and with higher quality when projects results are reviewed by the enterprise (executives).

Before we go further, we need to ensure we have a clear understanding of the word discipline. Discipline is the act of encouraging a desired pattern of behavior. George Washington said: "Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable, procures success to the weak, and esteem to all". In other words, discipline is the glue that holds organizations together.

We can't have agile and effective project methodologies or organizational processes without discipline. In short, effective discipline requires effective organizational oversight. Finally, discipline begins at the top and works its way down. Organizations with poor discipline have weak, ineffective leaders at the top. Weak, unengaged, ineffective leaders kill organizations. Can you say Enron?

The lack of project discipline is the fault of all project team members, but the cause of a lack of discipline lies at the top of the organization.

Disconnected, disinterested, and unengaged leadership is unacceptable in any organization. Undisciplined organizations have high turnover, low employee morale, and poor project results. These organizations cheat their investors and customers by not providing the highest level of service possible. Highly disciplined organizations make and keep commitments, manage to clearly stated and measurable goals, and have executives that are engaged and visibly participate in the oversight of projects and day-to-day operations. If you aren't visible, your aren't relevant. If you aren't relevant, you aren't needed.

In closing, dysfunctional organizations believe that the workers are solely responsible for managing projects and other day-to-day work. These organizations believe that the executives should spend the majority of their time strategizing and making policy. This is a failed approach (see General Motors, Ford, K-Mart, etc), and ensures the work, including projects, will take longer than planned and cost more than what was budgeted.

Executive leadership and oversight of projects has been proven to motivate project teams to be accountable, results driven, and focused on achieving a common goal. Good executive leadership provides the glue that keeps teams working together, provides inspiration, exhibits integrity, sets an example for others to follow, and is accountable.

Leadership is action, not position - Donald H. McGannon.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Stephen, for a great article. One of the main reasons of project failure is the lack of discipline and lack of involvement from the top. Managing and measuring discipline on projects has to be done from the top, as you rightly say.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen,

I'm a project manager in search of tools and methods for implementing a new PMO structure within a pharma organization. I found your blog very helpful...pls. can contact me via


Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen,
Both the points are the well understood in the Project Management community. Could you throw some light on how to achieve discipline in a project, based on your experience?

ProjectSteps said...

I believe discipline on a project is best achieved by having a strong sponsor willing to get involved, a project manager that enforces the project scope and follow through on commitments, and great communication.