Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Play the Game

The higher you move up the office hierarchy, the more savvy you must become in the office politics game. In my office, many keep their negative opinions of others to themselves so as not to be crushed. However, when it comes to groups that are systemically not performing, which in turn hinders the success of the company as a whole, I think appropriate to throw a few barbs... ok, a few helpful hints.

One cultural flaw in my office (and believe me, it's not the only one) is that the project managment group takes no ownership of the projects. They set up meetings, sometimes they take notes (and send them out - but then they expect kudos), they send out a weekly status report. However, they don't seem to think it necessary for them to actually understand what the project is about, or keep on top of whether various project participants are completing their tasks on time, or if someone stumbles across a road block and needs help, the project manager is not the person you would go to. They would most likely stare at you blankly, as if to say: are you implying I should do something about that? Recently, one PM began a meeting with higher ups about her project with: I'm not the business expert here, but I think the project is about X. Um, NO. As a project manager you should at least be able to explain, at a high level, what the project is and why the company is investing resources working on it.

I understand how the project management group evolved into this behavior. Their leader is sort of weak. Our projects seem to always veer wildly off course. I say: in no small part because they have no management, but.. also it's because of the behavior of everyone else on the projects. And if project management was actually managing the projects, they would have to lay accountability for where projects go off the rails on something or someone. See, the head of project management can't do that, because he'd get in trouble and it wouldn't look good for him. Nice, right?

So where is the game. I've been known to say (as have some others), that if our project managers were more evolved than administrative assistants and if people were held accountable for their work, our projects would go much smoother. This opinion does not go over well in the office. Recently, a former co-worker contacted me to say she was looking for a project management job. I told her my opinions of the project management group at my company, but that perhaps if someone strong arrived and led by example, things could change. I'm not really optimistic about this, but I want to help this person in their search. If he decides to work here, he'll be aware of the situation prior to accepting a position. Yesterday I ran into the head of project management and told him I may have a candidate for his open position. The reply was: and you'll put your name to it? At that point I knew that no one I recommend will have a chance. See, my rumblings about his staff haven't made him very happy. The sad thing is, I'm not displeased about these events. I do worry that someone who was used to really managing projects would be extremely unhappy in our environment. In these turn of events, I've appeared to be helpful to my old colleague, but don't have to worry I've put him in a miserable situation.

Somehow I still don't feel good about the game, though.


At 3:43 PM, Anonymous Timothy Johnson said...

You have some very astute observations about your PM Group. I enjoyed reading your analysis. It's a shame that their weak leader is undermining the credibility of the profession. If a Project Office is not adding value to the projects of the organization, then it is time for a house cleaning.

Great post.

At 11:12 AM, Anonymous Bryan said...

I work in the project management field as an underling in project controls doing program level scheduling. I've worked at several organizations and at each one the Project Management Group/Project Management Office, or whatever you want to call it, is always struggling. I will caveat this by stating that at each of these organizations most of the project management group (especially underlings like me) are consultants/contractors because the company doesn't have the knowledge base to do the work. I think this leads to a few problems.

1. The company doesn't take the project management group seriously. They hire them to come in and do their work but don't give them the tools, money or people to do it right.
2. Because we're consultants there's no loyalty to us because we're not really part of 'the team'.
3. The company invested the time and money to develop a project management group (because it was the trendy thing to do) but don't really listen to what they have to say. The company will continue doing what they always do - run projects that are routinely delayed and over budget.


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