Project Management: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Do you sometimes see your project manager as just the “jerk in charge?”

The course material has resonated with me in that I am able to identify the need for project management in certain areas of my workplace where this is lacking; such as developing systems for interdepartmental communication and talent acquisition and retention. But, can this be done in the project/program setting with definitive time lines, goals, budget, planning and execution? I think so!

To examine this further, let’s review two examples of projects that I’ve taken part of during my career in the Association Management Field which starkly contrast with each other. One, the successful implementation of a global acquisition strategy for a stand alone association. The other, an abysmally failed attempted to reorganize the digital file structure of an Association Management Firm representing 40 clients and employing almost 250 people.

The latter project, in my opinion, was the attempt of an executive assistant to prove her worth to the company. Beginning with the notion that a one size fits all file structure would be suitable for different account teams representing vastly different clients from many different industries was mistake number one. The project managers did not take the time to properly assess what the organization’s true needs and wants were and simply operated under assumptions. They may have been doing this to avoid scope creep, which often happens in the Association Management Firm setting because there are so many different agendas that come to the table. However, in this instance where the project largely affected day to day operations, failure to involve the entire organization in the planning process lead to a great amount of internal imbalance.

The next mistake was formulating an unreasonable timeline, which included several hours of pointless meetings and then full days, or even weeks, where entire account teams were taken away from their work and forced to moved files around within the network to comply with the new uniform structure. I was personally affected by this as my account team had a system in place for invoicing which relied heavily on file paths – all of which would have to be changed due to the relocation and none of which was considered or anticipated by the project manager. This was an absolute waste of human capital and client’s suffered because of it.

The successful project was one that was carefully cultivated over a two year period by a project manager with a strategic and forward thinking mindset. The Global Development Department at my current company put together an ROI tool which will allow them to assess how to approach various different markets. Each department had a seat at the table and everyone’s role in the process was considered. While implementation is just now beginning, there is great excitement! A good project manager should be able to generate positive feelings about the project – as opposed to the previous example which generated a lot of groaning and eye rolling. I hope to be able to partake in and lead more successful projects like this one in the future.


8 thoughts on “Project Management: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  1. Jacky,
    Your post shows two great examples of how differently projects can be developed and carried through. I think most of us can sympathize with a project that went horribly wrong. In my experience, it came about similar to yours: someone had an idea and convinced others it was worthwhile without fully evaluating the ramifications. In the end, it took time to restore the original practices, once the changes were found to be more costly than beneficial.

    My current organization is a smaller, private company, but with different departments and client sets. Even with a small company, interdepartmental communication is vital before implementing any changes that affect everyone.

  2. Jacky, you nailed it. The most exciting projects are the truly the ones that take longer to grow. I think in today’s culture, the markets move so quickly and it is easy to become wrapped up in the mindset of “just do it” (thanks Nike for that gem). The projects that are given careful consideration have a better mapping of the potential obstacles and how to combat them. These are the projects that involve everyone affected by the project and not just the creatives. I agree, this is absolutely essential to take the time to understand what an organization really needs and wants. I have found this especially true when companies outsource project management needs. The executives may give the project manager one narrative but then once the process starts, they run into administrative roadblocks. This situation happens all the time. We need to investigate deeper and ask more questions–no assumptions!

  3. Jacky,

    I dig the post! I like the example regarding the executive assistant trying to exert or show her worth to the company. Two things come to mind.

    First, who approved the proposal? From what you wrote it seems obvious that the “one size fits all” doesn’t work. It appears that there was in fact a reason to change? Perhaps the executive assistant saw a way to possible streamline some of the functions that go on at your company, and thus making everyones life easier, right? Maybe the idea behind the project was good, but the backing of management wasn’t there for support/critiquing the actual proposal to properly execute the plan.

    My second thought is that the idea may have belonged to the executive assistant, but maybe somebody else with more experience could have managed the project? Imagine a more experienced PM with a more successful track record managing the project. Could there have been a better outcome? Could the original plan/idea of the executive assistant still be utilized today if the idea was better executed? Its unfortunate that the project failed. In an organization such as yours where customers should be top priority, it appears they were placed second-ish during the ill ran project.

    1. Caleb, thanks very much! I definitely agree that the project manager in this case most likely had good intention, but don’t they all? It’s essentially the problem of “I have an idea . . . now I’m done!” Sometimes, managers can become so zoned in on their fabulous ideas that they fail to see how their plan effect the big picture, and this can be damaging to the greater good.

      You pose some great questions and approach this from an interesting perspective!

  4. Jacky – Great assessment of project managers doing the right thing for their group, and failing to address the goals of an organization. Your question summarizes the stance that project managers can take when taking on specific goals, and implementing change – they can be viewed as jerks or someone telling them what to do (big surprise). What I found interesting about your assessment about scope creep, is the failure to involve the entire org into the planning sessions. This ultimately wasted resource allocation among different departments, which created more ill will on the project. So, I believe that not being perceived as a jerk in the beginning, ended up making the project manager a jerk in the ending. Really enjoyed your examples on the good, the bad and the ugly of project management.

  5. Jacky. Whats up?

    Your blog posts are smoother than Jake Arriettas fastball.

    What I liked most about your post is your reference to the Project Manager setting timelines. Especially unrealistic timelines. As a project manager, it is critical to give each project at least a 2-4 week buffer time to accomplish the task. I would much rather tell a customer that something will take 10 weeks and respond to customer if we are done two weeks early in a positive manner as opposed to opposite. As the old saying goes “Always to under promise and over deliver as opposed to over promise and under deliver…”

    It is also really annoying when a manager sets an unrealistic timeline and then gets fussy when the “tentative” completion date passes. Then they get mad and place the blame elsewhere. A good PM will get spare time to accomplish a task and communicate the entire process with updates and deadlines that need to be met.

    1. Thanks Kevin, I definitely agree. One of the major takeaways I’ve learned from this course is that a good project manager is a leader and not a boss, valuing the human element above all else. A good project manager inspires team members to do their best work instead of intimidating them with staunch deadlines and idle threats.

  6. Hi Caleb,

    I enjoyed reading your post and agree that it’s imperative for a project manager to tread lightly in certain circumstance in the interest of avoiding the label of “that jerk in charge.” I also think the fundamental premise of good project management is leadership — the ability to deal with ambiguity, craft a plan when there is no plan, gain alignment and buy-in to plan, and oversee that project to its completion — is paramount.

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