If we were to treat our projects like true case studies, we could fix all the problems in them. But real projects aren’t just case studies where we can theorize and manipulate them into submission. Real projects don’t get their problems solved merely by an expert figuring out what the problem is, announcing it, and trying to put some plan to fix it into place. Nor do they get fixed by reading lots of articles and case studies on fixing the problem.

Some of the politics that go on within projects are probably the best example of this. If we read enough articles, they’ll give us all the right strategies and tips on how to work with people to create a “win win” situation, to overcome any objections they have, and to make everything work out. If we were to create a case study of the project, a group of graduate students in this type of thing could identify the problems and tell us how to resolve it. That’s what case studies are for — to train students to solve these problems. The students might even be correct, but putting something into place in a practical manner isn’t the same as suggesting it be done.

Realistically, once things get to a truly bad point on a project, it might take entirely stopping the project and reworking the entire team to give it a fresh start, but most projects aren’t willing to or entirely able to do this. Instead, they continue on with the hope that things will get worked-out on their own, but “hope” isn’t a recognized project management strategy. For example, an entire loss of trust among the team members isn’t something you can “hope” will go away. You have to do something to fix it and it has to be more than merely announcing at a meeting that “we’ll all trust each other, now.”

I want to stress that we shouldn’t give up on a project when we think it’s failing. We shouldn’t give up on dealing with the others on the project. This isn’t meant to give us all an excuse just to stop trying; instead, merely to recognize that theories and words can’t fix projects – only people can fix projects, but only with all the right tools and responsibilities given to them and that’s not always the situation they’re in.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises