Compromising in ailing projects – or – the acceptance of mediocrity
We are being taught that compromising is a good thing, rather than fighting for one position over another. But is this always true? I claim that in a situation of an ailing project, compromising paves the way to mediocrity if not even doom.
Take the following project example: The scope and the project deadline were in a constant flux ever since project initiation. The project consisted of several sub-projects which were mostly managed by subject matter experts, i.e., functional managers whom were asked to serve as project managers on a part-time basis. As it happens to be the case, one of these sub-project managers was notoriously under-performing ever since the inception of the project. A practitioner in his field of expertise for decades he was new to the realm not only of project management but to the project world per se. Very soon it became evident that this fellow was overwhelmed by the assigned job. Everyone was aware of it, including the project manager. Still, nothing happened. Finally, 5 months into this 8 month project the situation was escalated to the line manager. To no avail; nothing changed. Instead, 2 externals were added to this sub-project to conduct field work which, too, was behind schedule but not the source of the problem. This way at least it was claimed that the sub-project manager received external support. What a compromise! The right thing to do would have been to either help the sub-project manager 5 months earlier or, if nothing changed after a few weeks, replace him (see my blog post on sacking a team member). Bottom line: the sub-project continued to be behind schedule, deteriorated overall delivery quality, caused costs to increase, team morale to suffer. Yes, the project was finished eventually. But for what price!?
Lesson learned: If you are dealing with an ailing project, follow a clear-cut strategy of re-aligning the project; regardless if you choose a top-down or bottom-up approach. This is not the time to make compromises but to act. You, as the project or recovery leader, have to follow through, lead the pack, set the direction. Personally, I believe it is best if you can still involve the whole team re-aligning a project. However, there are times when the team has been or still is the main source of the problem. In this case, follow a top-down approach.
At this point I like to quote Michele Sliger, “While continuing to grow, the state of agile adoption seems to be plucked straight out of an Ayn Rand novel, where the acceptance of mediocrity has infected the masses like a plague. Half-hearted adoptions have led to half-hearted results (as in “we suck less”) that in turn are leaving these organizations straddling a tipping point from which they more often than not slide backwards, rather than making the push over the top to high performance and exponential growth in ROI.”
In short, if you want to leave the path of mediocrity and enter the way to performance and excellence, you have to act. Compromising is not the answer to problems.
Leadership requires courage and action, not compromises.