Examples of Poor Project Management - How Not to Involve Your Project Board & Stakeholders

Recently I've had the interesting experience of being in the project team, but not being the project manager. After gathering a few years of experience in playing the project management role, it was very interesting to simply observe how others do project management. I had the chance to learn a lot, mostly from examples of poor project management. Therefore I managed to understand even better the results of our study on the image of the project management profession and why people sometimes do not like working with project managers. In the next few weeks I will try to share my learning in short lessons, covering the things I've noticed as poor project management practice. In this first episode, I will share an example of how not to involve your project board and stakeholders.

Don't exclude important stakeholders from the board even if the sponsor recommends you to

Let's assume you have done your job in the initiation & planning stages and you have a clear list of stakeholders, with a complete understanding on how they are impacted by your project and their importance to the evolution of the project. Before scheduling the first board call, the sponsor asks you to trim down the list of board members and include only the people he or she believes are important. This is a tough situation, especially if the sponsor is very high in the organisational hierarchy.

What should you do? Definitely, you should not follow his or her advice blindly. Following the sponsor's recommendation will only add risk to your project and, if those stakeholders lead organizations that need to execute parts of the project, you will not get their full cooperation, even if the project sponsor mandates it. Even the most basic principles of change management tell you that you must not ignore these stakeholders.

Try to understand the reasons for the advice you just received. Validate if this is a good decision or not. Understand how you will communicate with these stakeholders and how they will be involved in the decision making process. Build the arguments you need to make your sponsor reconsider and do your best to make him or her change his opinion. If your sponsor will listen, a strong argument is the additional risk to the project of a disengaged and powerful stakeholder.

The last thing you want to do, is have these stakeholders completely out of your project board, especially when it comes to taking decisions that impact them directly. If you know their organizations are about to be impacted by decisions taken by the project board, try to invite them on an ad-hoc basis to those one or two meetings where the decisions are taken. Or, at least consult with them prior to the board review and make sure you capture their opinions and recommendations. Whatever you choose to do, do not simply keep them out of the loop.

Stand up in front of your project board to defend your team's decisions and recommendations

You have a creative project team which came up with lots of new and original ideas on how best to get things delivered. You present them to the project board, which happens to be very old fashion, and the board simply tells you to do things their way. Again... this is not an easy situation. In end, the job of the project manager is to keep the project board happy, isn't it?

Giving up the fight

I would say no. The job of the project manager is to deliver the project. Do not give up without a fight. Do not blindly accept the recommendations of the project board without making a case for your project team's recommendations on how to deliver the project. Board members are generally senior leaders which have not played executional roles for a long time. They are not always aware of the new realities of how things get done. Your project team is the real expert. Therefore do not hesitate to backup your team's recommendations with good arguments. Stand up in front of the project board to defend the choices they made. If the project board still wants things to be done their way, then indeed, the sensible choice is to accept their view and change the way things are executed during the project. But simply do not accept without standing up for your team and without advising the project board of the implications of their decisions.

What happens if you don't? You simply lose their respect and the team will not longer view you as one of them. To them, you will be the one playing nice with the project board. You will have reduced control of the project and the way things get executed.

Do not ask the project board to approve every decision taken by the project team

I noticed this happens mostly with project managers who want to keep their project board happy above anything else, so that they get accolades from senior leadership and maybe a promotion, sometime in the near future. They made out of this a true mantra and therefore they involve the project board almost as often as they involve their project team. They go back to the project board for approval of almost every decision taken by the team, indifferent of its impact on the big project deliverables.

Unfortunately, this creates the opposite effect. First of all, your board will not necessarily be happy and your team will no longer deliver as efficiently as you need them to. Overloading your project board with decision making does not build their confidence in your project management capabilities and your project's ability to deliver the expected results. They will start to feel you don't have the leadership and coordination skills required to manage everything. They will start to micro-manage the project, every step of the way, even though they might lack the overall view and the coordination skills of a project manager.

Above all, the project team will start to hate working on the project, especially those members of the project team who have lots of expertise. Having their decisions overridden by the project board on a regular basis will only stir up negative feelings and you can get in unpleasant situations where people simply refuse to work on the project or sabotage it by complaining to everybody else about it, and building a very negative image about you and your project. In the end, the project team is the real expert, not the project board. Why do they have to always listen to the project board, especially when the board doesn't seem to have a clue about the details of how the work should be done.

Do not ask or let your project board define every aspect of the project

Generally, this behavior is noticed in parallel with the previous one. Project managers ask the project board to to define everything that the project needs to deliver, to make sure that the board members are pleased and the project manager receives accolades at the end of it.

Unfortunately, this behavior creates huge problems. Yes, what the project delivers will please the seniors leaders in the short term, but the end result is likely to be different from what your users require. The board needs to help you define the big objectives, approve the list of deliverables, the schedule, costs, resources, etc. but it should not define every aspect of the project. You will end up with your project team working on something they do not believe in. This leads to poor results and a very high level of dissatisfaction with the users of the end result.

Use your project team to define in detail what the project delivers and how, based on the objectives set by the project board. Do not ignore them and simply treat them as mere executioners. Also, don't forget to stand up in the front of a controlling project board to argument and defend your team's recommendations.

Conclusion

You might have lived similar situations. What happened? How did you react? I am very curious to know how common these examples and situations are. Also what would think it would be best to do when encountering them? Don't hesitate to leave a comment.

Related content:

Examples of Poor Project Management - Not Seeing the Woods for the Trees
Examples of Poor Project Management - Overusing Positive Words
Examples of Poor Project Management - Introducing an Intermediary between the Project Manager and the Client