It’s easy to get people to do what they want to do. The problem for project managers is that most people don’t want to do this. They aren’t particularly motivated to throw themselves enthusiastically into project work.
They have their reasons. Projects very often are extra work. The team members’ regular bosses have their own concerns. Functional managers can be quite unwilling to adjust team members’ regular workloads in favor of time to work on outside projects. The managers can flat-out demand that close-to-home priorities come first.
The reluctance also can originate with the designated team member him/herself. If you’re a committed worker, you don’t want to take time away from what you’re already devoted to. If you’re not a committed worker, you don’t want to take on more unwanted duties of any kind.
There are other factors. The project usually has unfamiliar activities and personnel. It’s uncertain, risky, time-consuming. You don’t like to be subject to the decisions of someone you don’t know – and who isn’t really your boss, anyway.
The very dedication of the project manager, when it exists, can be off-putting. Dedicated people can be really annoying to associates who aren’t. Doesn’t this guy/woman realize I don’t share the conviction that nothing in the world is as important as this thing?
If the project manager is not dedicated, or is a bumbler, disorganized, a poor communicator, impatient, uncaring . . . Well, you get the picture.
All of the above is no revelation to veteran project managers. Project leadership is openly built on the ghastly principle of responsibility without authority. The stage is set.
The situation is so daunting, in fact, that stakeholders and spectators often operate on the assumption that every project will wind up ‘way over budget, off schedule and under quality standards. That’s just the way it is.
When the project manager agrees with them, a disappointingly frequent occurrence, you’ve got a guaranteed dog of a project and a dispirited troupe of reluctant participants. You’ve got an organization resigned to mediocrity or worse in its attempts to innovate.
And, most seriously, you have a burned-out project manager who tried the “champion” role – pulling the project through by superhuman effort – or a cynical project manager – telling the world that you can’t expect anything different from a loser organization like this.
Refocusing this picture is not impossible, but it’s not simple. It means the project manager must refuse to share in a cardinal failure of our workplace culture.