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23 de septiembre de 2012

A Regretful Personal Experience

Some years ago, the company I worked for won a very promising contract. The project consisted of developing a technological strategy plan for a Public Administration Organization. This project was considered “key” in an almost literal sense: we’d need it to be able to gain access to future projects.
High profile consultants needed were based in Madrid, but this project would be executed in the client offices in another city in Spain. Due to cost constrains, consultants would work remotely. Since this project was the most critical in this region, the Functional Manager was appointed as the Project Manager. I was leading one of the five subprojects in Madrid.

The project was closed seven months late (100% behind schedule), with a cost overrun as high as three times the original budget. Regarding personal relations, every consultant ended up burned out, not willing to deliver any high quality consulting product, nor keeping involved in future projects there, nor helping that Project Manager anyway (only if obliged).

So what happened? Here is a short list of the explanations from my side:

  • The five different consulting teams in Madrid worked disconnected most of the time.
  • The common feeling regarding the work process was like this: “I belong to a pool of experts. As in an assembly line, the text I produce will be inserted into a bigger document that I don’t’ need to know”.
  • The project lacked a clear scope and schedule. Team members hardly had a sense of the bigger picture. Maybe only at the end, if they did.
  • In order to progress, we were always in reactive mode: 1) The client demanded something new; 2) the Project Manager translated his own directions to team leaders; 3) consultants produced the documents; 4) the Project Manager felt free to change and integrate those documents (he did not have time to get the consultants’ approval) and finally 5) he delivered the presentation to the client by himself.
  • The Project Manager banned direct access to the client personnel. If the teams needed to validate some work in progress to the client, they previously had to get his approval.
  • The Project Manager did not confront people conflicts. He preferred to deal with the team leaders, or with the team leaders’ bosses. Escalating these problems just made them worse.
  • Most of the stakeholders, from team members to middle and top managers, felt continuously manipulated and deceived by him.

In short, we all distrusted that Project Manager. The project in fact was a failure in all senses. But please notice the curious line: This Project Manager suffered no pain. When you control the whole communication, you can always provide the best excuses:
  • The client was not satisfied in the end: “Consultants from Madrid were not able to translate their theoretical models into the local idiosyncrasy.”
  • The project has been too behind schedule: “Besides managing operations in this region of Spain, I had to devote most of my time to this project, and I was the one to take all decisions. Accountable people in Madrid did not involve enough to be delegated.”
  • The Project had suffered much rework and consequently, much cost overrun: “The client couldn’t approve documents as delivered. First versions were misaligned by far. I had to rework everything, but I was alone on this.”
  • No team member trust you, they don’t want to work with you anymore: “I have had to be authoritarian many times. If not, the work simply was not made. As you can see, this has damaged my relations with my workmates. I hope management will know how to reward this personal sacrifice.”

Wait a minute. How could that be possible? Project Manager is the first to fall when project falls, doesn't he? Is this some kind of contradiction? I don’t think so. That statement refers to the common problems of a regular practitioner in project management. This was a Functional Manager leading the project. He did not do well as a Project Manager: He only was not found out.

I’m not aware if he has managed more projects afterwards. I hope this regretful experience directed him to a career more focused on sales, or business administration. I hope that today he has a position that entitles him to delegate on a Professional Project Manager whenever a critical project in his region has to be managed.

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