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Project managers can't please everyone

Project managers used to be able to heartlessly manipulate people and cut corners in order to get the job done, says Bas de Baar. Now, under the harsh, judgmental light of the Internet, PMs may have to soften their act.

Bas de Baar
Bas de Baar

Within the space of a couple of days I got bombarded with the notion of green project management and being an eco-friendly project manager. I am a nice guy, I print my Gantt charts on recycled strategy memos using dehydrated low-emission cow urine, so don't come to me with this eco-friendliness! I personally blame Al Gore for this crap. We were all just happily hacking away, just being the self-obsessed project managers the entire business world got to love, and now this!

Yeah I get it. Everyone has to save the freakin' planet. At home you can change one light bulb. If you apply the same sense of urgency into your project approach, you have the power and authority to change thousands of light bulbs at once. Basically, because we have more authority in our projects than at home (yep, guys... I know) we can make a bigger bang. It's more social. It's more ethical. This is like preaching veganism to the British royal family (umm, they love to hunt ...)

There isn't a procedure I haven't been able to circumvent yet.
Bas de Baar,

We are talking about project managers! Remember us? We need a document that describes our code of professional and social responsibility (the PMI has one). We are hired to get things done. You give us a goal, any goal, and we will keep on running until we have mission accomplished. We are like energizer bunnies. You switch us on, and there "ain't no stoppin' us." If the goals are easy to reach, you don't call for a project manager. You don't send in the Marines just to shake hands. We get the job done. If we can cut a corner, we cut it. As I always say proudly: "There isn't a procedure I haven't been able to circumvent yet."

During the 1990s two French guys wrote a marvelous book called Managing Sensitive Projects. They run projects that nobody wanted, like creating nuclear waste disposal facilities, massive layoffs and more of those kinds of ethical twilight zones. They outlined their approach to those types of projects in their book. I loved it! People Manipulation 101. The first rule is to focus on your allies. If you have to get some points across and some people are against them, the natural reaction is to win the dissenters over by paying a lot of attention to them. Instead, you should support the people who agree on the matter to convince the disbelievers. In this way you have more people to spread the word and mostly from the same environment as the "don't wannas." And we all have the tendency to accept something faster from someone out of the same environment than from a total stranger.

Or how about this one. Create lateral projects. Try to formulate the project or end result in such a way that it appeals to a specific group of people. Perhaps you have to focus differently or include some stuff to make it interesting. Are people concerned about the effects on their health when nuclear waste is dumped in their backyard? Say that the project includes research on the effects of health. And they can participate! It's like the free prize inside. Appeal to the greed or fears of your audience and you can serve the biggest crap as a gourmet meal.

Project management resources
The six hats of project management 

Estimating actual project progress 

Ten ways project managment can move your career forward

Those were the days. There is no way we can pull that off so easily anymore. The Web ruined that opportunity for us. The Internet introduced deadly transparency. The flattened and connected world makes sure reputations spread faster than you can say "Geronimo." Over a decade ago it seemed almost impossible for someone in Europe to have a clue about the reputation of some person in Africa. With the Internet we have reputation systems in place where crowds share opinions among each other. It is not only that books and other products are recommended or thrashed, like on Amazon, but now people are taking a turn. LinkedIn provides a functionality to recommend. WeVouchFor takes it a step further; on this site you explicitly vouch for someone to do a certain job properly. And now time will tell what happens. With your reputation as a tree hugging, recycling, bunny-lovin' project manager a) you know that your team will dig you; there is no bridge you cannot cross by channeling the karma of your collective ancestors. Or b) you're considered too soft to operate in this dog-eat-dog world. Tough call.

About the author: Bas de Baar knows all about the wacky world of project management. He is a project manager in the publishing industry and is editor of a popular Web site devoted to project management, His venerated instructional book on sudden project management, Surprise! Now You're a Software Project Manager was published in September 2006 and is based on real-life experience.

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