Too sexy for your shirt? We don’t think so
‘I’m too busy!’ was the recurring retort from one of my long-ago supervisors. ‘Don’t you know I have a company to run?’
The statement was often accompanied by a clear view of the palm of his hand as he sped from one crisis to the next. Among ourselves, we’d use his question and the raised hand when answering simple requests of each other, such as ‘Can you pass me that stapler, please?’
We often come across such behaviour on large complex projects. Rarely said outright, it’s implied by actions or the lack thereof. Replacing ‘company’ with ‘project’, one wonders what the project team is too busy for: quality? safety? cost control? performance? profit? If everyone is running at full tilt, with no time to reflect, something will always give.
Perhaps this mentality comes from the apparent freedom a project grants its team.
Normal business units are established planets orbiting the corporate solar system, but a project often blasts off into the comparative unknown. Rather than being an integral part of the corporation, these standalone entities see themselves as pushing at the frontier.
Star Trek’s Captain Kirk may acknowledge that he works for Starfleet and that Starfleet has provided him with status and career opportunities. But to deal with a Klingon insurgency in a far-flung galaxy, he’ll happily bend or break the rules. And even though he receives a dressing down from his bosses, he’s ultimately rewarded for his and his crew’s heroic efforts.
So, when faced with a request to undertake a central management initiative or to provide additional feedback about the project, the silence from the project team can be deafening. ‘We’re all too busy,’ the void seems to say. ‘Don’t you know we have a project to run?’
And herein lies the tension between corporate project governance (as expected by corporate HQ) and project management as experienced in the field. Requiring compliance with corporate conventions will only get you so far. Kirk and the crew at the frontier do indeed have the best understanding of what the project needs. But they should never be too busy to consider the risks that may jeopardize the successful delivery of their undertaking.
To achieve your desired project outcome, we believe your limited resources are much better spent focusing on building project readiness than corporate robustness. This means promoting a culture of professional practice over heroic efforts which frees up the mental energy needed to tackle the inevitable nasty surprises.
Is this Star Trek analogy overblown? Or, like us, do you recognize the real-world trait?