Do you Punish the Messenger?
Years ago, my PMO was managing a large, multi-year, IT program for our client – a Healthcare services company that operates many hospital and physician practice facilities. We conducted a program governance meeting each week attended by the key client sponsors from IT operations and our team of project managers. Our primary goal was to complete projects as soon as possible without imposing undue risk through frequent communication across our organizations. We had a very robust and mature methodology for delivering projects which included a set of well-defined key metrics we used to measure project health and the overall health of the program. As is often the case, projects that reported Yellow or Red overall status received the most attention and scrutiny.
Early in the program we experienced several instances where projects rapidly went from “Green – everything is fine” to “Red – we’re not going to deliver on our timeline”. Most of the time, the issue causing the delay was related to constraints among the human resources that were required to complete the project.
During one of the governance meetings, our primary IT sponsor said, “Those of you who reported Yellow or Red status for your projects this week are welcome to leave. We will review your detailed status reports and contact you if we have questions. Thank you for your efforts. We will now review the projects that are in Green overall status.”
Wow! He turned the process upside down in one second! He genuinely wanted to understand what the barriers to progress were and how the governance team could help remove them. If your organization “punishes” a project manager by interrogating them, requesting more information and second guessing them; you are telling them to keep their problems to themselves and solve them on their own. This is the opposite outcome you want. If you foster an open and honest dialog by the way you treat the messenger, you will gain the team’s trust and keep projects moving forward.
Of course, the project manager has to know the details of the situation, articulate them in a succinct manner and should be able to propose alternative solutions. They should also know what they need and ask for it directly (but these are topics for a future blog).
How do you think the PM team responded? Those that had the courage to report the facts felt vindicated and those who tended to keep their issues to themselves saw how the governance team could help them overcome obstacles. They became more transparent.
Think about this the next time you’re in a governance meeting as observe how you and others at the table react to bad news. Do you listen while seeking to understand, then help with the solution? Or instead, do you dole out the “punishment”?
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About Sean Wilson:
Sean is an accomplished leader with proven success structuring and operating large scale program management offices in the Healthcare and Housing Finance industries. He has enthusiasm for devising solutions to complex problems with a focus on customer service and staff training. He is an established methodologist and co-inventor of a patented program and project management methodology.