Excerpted from The Project Management Advisor - 18 Major Project Screw-Ups And How To Cut Them Off At The Pass (Prentice Hall, 2004)
Virtually every (rational) project has at its core a need to solve some problem that is perceived by someone. Problems can manifest themselves as barriers to getting something done (“we can’t possibly ship 10,000 units/week with our existing systems”) or as opportunity to doing something better (“we need to reduce the cost of processing purchase orders by 20%”).
In any event, there is a desire to do something tomorrow that can’t be done acceptably today. Admittedly, some of the most fun projects that I have worked on have been the “omigosh, we need to get this done or else” projects. I have seen the greatest clarity of purpose on projects where there was a very real and tangible consequence to not completing the project successfully. One outstanding example of this that affected virtually every business on earth was the Y2K computer scare. One of my jobs was in ensuring that our mission-critical vendors were adequately prepared for Y2K and that there would not be any business interruption to our company as a result of a vendor’s failure to perform.
So let's get right into this....
Ever known a manager who held great respect of his or her team but was not respected by his or her management? Or maybe you've had a manager that just couldn't get things done effectively because he or she just didn't know how to "work the system"? Or even still, are you are a manager who is continually frustrated because you can't get your manager to do what you need him or her to do? If any of these sound familiar to you, welcome to the world of ineffective upward management.
Tom looked at the clock.
“Midnight,” he said to himself as he took a sip of coffee. The milestone review for the second phase of the project was the next day. As he updated the project plan, he came across the organizational change management tasks that were supposed to be done in phase one that got pushed to phase two. He saw that the tasks were still zero percent complete.
“We’ll pick them up later,” he said to himself as he added the tasks to the phase three workplan.
During the milestone review the next day, Tom’s manager, Gayle, asked about the incomplete organizational change management tasks.
“Ran out of time,” Tom said. “We’ll get them done in phase three.”
“Isn’t that what you told me three months ago during our phase one review?” Gayle asked.
Tom looked down. “Um, yeah,” he said.
“Phase three is even more intense than phase two, what makes you think you’ll get the OCM tasks done in phase three if you didn’t get them done in phase one or two?”
“Gayle, we’ll get them done,” Tom said.
“OK, I’m holding you to it, Tom.”
Three months later, at the phase three milestone review, Tom walked through the workplan, then got to the OCM tasks. Tom knew what was coming.
“Still not done,” Gayle said as Tom avoided her gaze.
My fiction book, The Lawless One and the End of Time, has four main characters who meet at age 14 in Naples, Italy and all grow into globally-recognized figures. One of the characters, Bert Winn, was fascinated with history. He loved the concreteness of historical facts; they either happened or they didn’t. He met and fell in love with Laura, a math major he met in college. He graduated college with a Ph.D. in history and became an acclaimed professor. Bert and Laura married and had a son they named JT. The Winn family became internet celebrities and millions of people subscribed to their online video blog. Subscribers loved to hear their messages of fact, inspiration, and challenge. Their message? An unvarnished, inspirational view of life with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Bert started showing signs of autism at eighteen months with speech delay, difficulty maintaining eye contact, and a dislike for being cuddled. As Bert grew, he and his mother developed strategies for how to accommodate some of Bert’s sensitivities, such as a “beach ball kiss,” in which an imaginary beach ball filled space between them when they kissed hello and goodbye. Laura too had sensory issues, particularly with clothing fabrics. The two of them learned to cope with their sensitivities through the years, so they became normal for them. It also felt normal for their son, JT, to be on the autism spectrum. They didn’t view themselves as people to be pitied, but used the opportunity to help others understand the world of autism and how people on the spectrum could thrive just like anyone. Their story educated and inspired millions and gave those affected by autism hope.
The story of Bert, Laura, and JT were heavily influenced by my wife Patty’s and my experience raising our son Trevor. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age five (the clinical diagnosis was Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified or PDD-NOS) back in 1998. At the time, autism wasn’t well known and our only exposure to it was Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rainman. We had no idea what the future had in store for us as a family. Would he ever graduate high school? Would he drive? Would he have relationships? Through the years Trevor amazed us with what he was able to do and how he learned to cope with his autism. Today he is a college graduate who lives on his own, drives, works, and has an active social life. Yes, he has challenges that will be with him for the rest of his life. But we learned an important lesson with Trevor; the moment we underestimated him he proved us wrong.
You may have your own perceptions of people with disabilities, whether it be physical (paralysis), cognitive (autism), present at birth (Down Syndrome) or related to an injury (amputation due to an accident). Your perceptions may be due to personal experience, observing a friend or loved one, or what you see in the media. Your perceptions may be inclusive or biased. Only you can decide.
So, what’s your action? Educate yourself. Disability:IN, American Association of People with Disabilities, Special Books by Special Kids, Autism Speaks, Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Disability and Health Overview, and Northwest Center are some great resources to help you better understand people with disabilities. Do your own web searches, just make sure the information you’re taking in is from credible sources.
Take the time to learn more about disabilities and focus less on the “dis” and more on “abilities.” Oh, and if you want to learn more about Bert, Laura and JT’s story, check out The Lawless One and the End of Time.
Keynote Speaker | Board Director | Autism Advocate | Author | Project Management Expert | Microsoft/Accenture Veteran
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