Explaining broken projects …

Unfortunately from time to time we have projects that are not the “world according to project management”?  Sadly that’s not new. 

What I often find more challenging than fixing the problem, is how to explain the broken project challenges to company executives and or non project management people.  In particular the executive that may have to cover the costs of the project being so “broken” and support corrective actions.

For them it’s easy, “you’re supposed to be in control, why aren’t you doing the charge of the light brigade to sort it out!”, or “why is this project not performing as it should”, and my final laugh out loud “how did it get to this place?” 

Through hard experience I have come to realise that the trick is learning how to explain the project status to them in ways that they understand without getting a reputation for being “Attila the Hun” or being called a liability?  Yes – odd contradiction isn’t that. 

I have learnt that means that when you are not economical enough with the truth, you tend to frighten the executive with your honesty.  When you frighten executives 10 to 1 they are not going to support your requests for assistance.   For the record I hate economical with the truth, to me that is simply another word for lying (see Scrappy Women in Business and how I landed up on the wrong end of this scale of economy!)

Anyhow, where was I?  Oh yes, I suppose they think if this is how you behave with them, how can they allow you to see the central mechanisms and the workings of their inner sanctum exposing their vulnerabilities?  When you know the real deal, then you may be similarly “uneconomical” with the truth to the client shock and horror!

Then there may be that other pesky problem, how do you hide your distrust (and sometimes your intense dislike) for the executive that you have lost faith in.  How do you manage your paradox of working within and reporting sufficiently to the very people that you simply do not believe any more?  Still not forgetting that people who fear you will not necessarily consider your dilemma’s worth supporting even if they should, and that’s what you may need to lift the project out of the ditch (a ditch is just shallower than a grave!)

When one digs a little deeper, it should be no surprise that these executives ask the questions they do, or conversely and equally don’t want to ask the questions they must.  It all boils down to FEAR and not wanting to hear the real answers.  Often these self same execs are fully aware that they or their actions have contributed enormously to this broken project situation, and now run the risk of being exposed for that fact. 

I have realised that it often simply boils down to FEAR and not wanting to hear the answers.  If they ask questions, they will have to deal with the answer(s), and few people like dealing with negative situations.

So the question remains.  How do we deliver less than best information to the executives? Keep it in context and somehow get them to understand precisely how and why the project is so broken, … and … without causing fear and panic.  But at the same time waking them up and out of their coma in order that they assist and support you in a way that contributes towards fixing the project.

I live in Africa, a wonderful warm and rich land, diverse and challenging in its own way.  Indigenous Africans are famed for their story telling.  It was their way of passing down traditions and wise teachings in times when writing was not a familiar concept.  A story told, however long or concise but told in a way that was easy to remember and understand and at the same time gentle on the ear – that made for a lesson well learnt!  They realised that people absorbed knowledge well when it was passed down in a form that they could easily relate to, and draw comparisons with. 

So taking a lesson from their book, I learnt that instead of using complex technology and terms I needed to think of realistic ways to tell my project woes in a story / analogy that the executives can relate to without raising anxiety and fear.

In African form, I will tell you a few simple anecdotes / analogies of some of my recent interesting projects, maybe you will relate?

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