Ethics and Project Management

In the two class periods that we have meet, we have talked about multiple issues that come up during a project.  We have talked about hard deadlines, contracts, contractor/client relations and so on.  One aspect that has not really been talked about and it might be one of the most important aspects of project management is ethics and ethical issues in project management.

I found an article, “Ethical Issues in Project Management” that discusses some ethical situation that might come up during a project and that a project manager might have to address.  The article focus is on three possible situations that could affect a project team and the ethics involved.  The following is discussed in the article: admission of wrongdoing, focus of blame, and hard choices regarding contracts.

The first ethical issue the article discusses is “admission of wrongdoing”.  Admission of wrongdoing can sometimes be the hardest thing to for a person to do.  When a project does not go well or issues arise during a project, a project manager has the dilemma of having to admit and take responsibility for what went wrong.  According to the article, ethically, if the project manager is at fault for the unsuccessful venture of project completion, then that project manager must be able to admit this wrong. Not admitting wrongdoing can greatly damage the team relationship.  Have you ever been a lead on a project or member of a project team were the admission of wrongdoing became an issue?

The second ethical issue the article discusses is “focus of blame”.   As we all know it is easier to blame someone else when something does not go right then to take the blame ourselves.  This is also true for project managers.   The article states that ethically, no one person should be singled out if a project fails unless it is the project manager.  The project manager is in charged of getting the project completed.   Sometimes a task can fail despite the project manager’s best efforts.  If this is the case, ethically, the team should take responsibility for the failure and not one or two individuals.  Have you ever been part of a team and the lead tried to blame you for the failures of the project?  Have you ever tried to blame someone else on your team for a project failure?

The last ethical issue the article discusses is “hard choices regarding contracts”.   Contract may have clauses built into them that may violate ethical beliefs and values.   The article gives the following as an example: a defense contract may stipulate that members of a project team cannot be of a certain race or origin to qualify to work on a project. Is this ethical or unethical? The answer may be debatable. To some, this is ethical in order to ensure the protection of the country’s top-secret initiatives and projects. To others, however, this would be an example of discrimination based on race or ethnicity and labeled unethical.  The question I have is with all of the technology and resources that are available today to do background checks, is it still ok to discriminate for any reason?


6 thoughts on “Ethics and Project Management

  1. This is a very well written blog post and I like how you put it all together. You touched on many important aspects regarding project management.In response to the second issue, the “focus of blame” I have never been in this situation, but I can only imagine how hard it would be to be a failing project manager. In my personal opinion the manager should take full responsibility in the long run, his plan failed due to lack of hiring responsible workers or his own work ethic. Good write up.

  2. I have been fortunate enough not to have been on a project team with a lot of finger pointing or blaming. For the most part this is done by using a very open dialogue to discuss KDDs (Key Design Decisions). I am fortunate (and sometimes unfortunate when we need resources) to work with a pretty small project team. This team gathers on a weekly basis at a common site to work away from our regular day jobs. We can work on our own individual portions, but we all come together when we need to make a critical decision. This can be very time consuming and sometimes painful because there are disagreements as the discussions progress, but we defer to the subject matter expert, the project manager, or even an executive sponsor to make the final decision if a consensus isn’t reached after lengthy debates. This is then documented on a shared site that everyone can see, and the document clearly states how and why we made the decision we did. I realize this may not be possible for every company/project, but it has worked very well in terms of accountability and documentation for us.

  3. I agree with the second point about blaming the project manager if the project fails. A project manager is more like a CEO of a small group of people. He is directly and indirectly responsible for the success of the project. If in the middle of the project, a manager feels he/she has hired an incompetent employee, the employee should be “laid off” from the project team. Flexibility and adaptability is key to success in an organization or project.

  4. I think this was a great post about the ethical issues surrounding project management. While it may not have been perfectly comprehensive, I do believe the major ethical issues were addressed. I was shocked when reading the section about the hard choices regarding contracts. To me it seems unimaginable that a contract would include a clause that restricts a gender, race, or ethnicity from working on a project. My mind is screaming, “how is that even possible?” I am certain I would never feel comfortable working on a project in which people were excluded due to any factor besides their professional skill set or availability.

  5. I have never been a part of a “project” per se, but I have been part of an office team who had a common goal of making things run smoothly. There have been times when someone has called and complained about something another employee has done. That situation can be difficult, because you don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, but you don’t want to assume the blame either. I have always been told that it is proper to just fix the problem without assigning blame. To address the last question, in my opinion, it is unethical to discriminate on the basis of race, but not always origin. Origin can be seen as security risk more than someone’s ethnic background. You develop opinions, morals and values or lack thereof based on where you originate from.

  6. Great post, these issues seem to arises in all types of business. I have not been a part of project, but feel these issues will arise further into my career. As to your second point, the project manager should be the only person being singled out if a project fails. The project manager should be notified of any problems, and it is his or her job to fix these problems. If the problem can not be resolved it should be the managers obligation to take responsibility and not single any person out. I do not feel it is ok to discriminate against anyone when hiring for a job. In the real world though, no matter how many laws are put into place against discrimination, it will always continue to exist.

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