Every day on IT projects around the world, decisions are being made. Some have millions of dollars at stake and people’s livelihood depending on them. Some could impact whether project deadlines and contractual objectives are met. Some pertain to which template should be used for a document no one will ever read or which conference room should be used to demo a prototype.
Who is making what decisions on your project, and how?
Early on in my consulting career while supporting a SharePoint development and content migration project I learned how CYA (Cover Your Arse) culture could kill a team’s productivity. The project was part of a federal program that was made up of two unrelated projects. Several different teams and managers were involved in this project including a federal employee team, a prime contractor team, sub-contractor team, security team and quality assurance team. There were no defined processes for decision making, and the various managers often were off-site not dealing with day to day operations. My role was to provide business analysis and project management support. At first, managers took a very laissez-faire approach to decision making, letting the team make all daily technical and project decisions. Although we knew some decisions we made really were more traditionally appropriate for manager level, we felt empowered and things were getting done. Our team was collaborating, problem solving, and even having fun! The other project in the program was not succeeding. In fact, the federal team loathed them and technically they were not meeting any requirements or objectives. The customer’s attitude about the other team began to trickle down to us. Suddenly our customer was finding fault in our work and questioning every decision we made. Since the managers had previously been hands off, a lot of blaming started to happen. The work atmosphere quickly soured and we no longer felt comfortable making any decisions, technical or project related. Emails were sent out about everything, needing a seemingly endless amount of people to weigh in. Our productivity went from 10 to zero. We spent so much time getting approval and documenting everything we did, nothing was actually getting done. The schedule began to slip and teammates began to leave the project in droves.
What I learned the hard way can be summarized in two points:
1) DEFINE the different types of project decisions and the associated processes for making them. Spend time ensuring teammates understand the processes and are fully aware of what decisions they can make on their own. Do not bottleneck decisions, especially for ones that have low risk and/or impact.
2) EMPOWER your team to make decisions. If you don’t agree with something they do or if your project has a setback, have an open dialogue about why it happened and what could be done differently. Do not approach these situations from a place of blame or instilling fear.
At the end of the day project managers should hire professionals that bring a lot to the table. CYA culture will stifle your teams creativity, collaboration and ultimately their productivity. It creates a work environment based on fear, which is never fun or inspiring for anyone. Keep your project alive and well; steer clear from the productivity killer: CYA Culture.