Dealing with difficult stakeholders

By: Jack Ferraro

How do deal with those challenging stakeholders who will not make a decision, put up road blocks, send off negative energy or are simply are out for themselves?

Project Managers Killing Your Company

Jul 01, 2013

We all consume hundreds or thousands of information bites every day. We use filters to quickly determine which items are important and which to pass by. Every once in a while you read something that catches your attention and requires more thought.

“We don’t have interdepartmental project managers. The people who actually do the work do that.”[i]

Wow, what punch in the gut! This is a quote from Palo Alto Networks Founder Nir Zuk in April 2nd article entitled: Project Managers Will Kill Your Company: advice from Palo Alto Networks Founder Nir Zuk.

Mr. Zuk is a highly successful entrepreneur and technology visionary. He is listed as one riches 400 Americans at the age of 41. So what did we (Project Managers) do to Nir? A look at his past may give us a clue. He was a top engineer at Check Point Software, co-founded OneSecure and served as the CTO of NetScreen, which was sold to Juniper Networks in 2004. To summarize, this guy has been in one of most rapidly changing industries in the world over the past 10-15 years — internet security — and he has been enormously successful. I think we can conclude from his experience, project managers were not enablers of project success, but rather roadblocks! For someone like Mr. Zuk to say to “project managers will kill your company” may be an eye opener, for me, it’s not.

When reading into Nir’s blatant hatred for bureaucracy, you can see how project managers have no warm place in his heart. He has seen several small entrepreneur companies be purchased by larger companies only to see B and C players infiltrate the company line up and ultimately slow down decision making and ultimately progress. He simply moved on and started another company vowing to crush the notion you need people to help coordinate among different departments. Nir believes once you have players on board who don’t do anything valuable, just coordinating, that is the beginning of the end for the organization. These players, i.e. project managers, have an interest in making sure there is always something to coordinate, so they start inventing problems that don’t really exist. A can do attitude is replaced by can’t do. These beliefs by the founder of Palo Alto Networks have really been around for years, maybe whispered in break rooms and corporate gyms, the only difference is they are openly discussed by a young successful entrepreneur CEO and they are now printed!

It is not uncommon for project managers to place themselves as the central point of all project communication, managing and controlling information flow and coordinate activities. Controlling scope, cost, schedule and managing communications are core competencies of project managers. But now are they in question? 

In my book The Strategic Project Leader — Mastering Service-based Project Leadership(second edition expected out in 2014), I warn project managers to redefine themselves, before others do, as Service-based Project Leaders who become morally obligated to achieve efficiency on projects, use foresight to lead instead of reacting to events, embrace customization of project processes and deliverables to create experiences for stakeholders, and enable connectedness among resources to speed up progress and improve decision making. Service-based project leaders serve all stakeholders including project team members by growing their capabilities and in turn the organization’s ability to react to change effectively.

Ultimately we need to define ourselves not just as schedulers, coordinators, information hubs, meeting planners, and documentation specialists, but as people who increase the effectiveness of the organization to change; this begins with capabilities of the team members and organization to be more efficient and effective.

We now have a high-tech entrepreneur redefining us a B, C players — enemies of progress!

What will our response be? Ignore it or start to examine our own behavior, competencies and motivations. Stay tuned!

[i] interdepartmental project managers.

What has Taylor Taught Us?

Aug 23, 2012

Successful leaders in knowledge intensive jobs create structures and processes for information that flow freely so workers can use the information to do their job as they see fit. These leaders then provide incentives for good decisions. Unfortunately, many people in charge of IT project delivery still promote a Taylorist view and try to control decision-making and plan out every detail of the task so workers can complete it in a timely manner without asking questions. In 1911 Frederick Taylor authored the The Principles of Scientific Management. In the early 1900s, the work force has less education than today, jobs were more industrial-based than knowledge-based. Taylor classic management book emphasized that management should control decision making, because workers are not smart enough to make decisions. The work needs to be broken down into simple finite components for workers to complete and management focus should be on production output, process and financial controls. IT project management has traditionally emphasized a Taylorist centralized control and decision making structure for project processes in light of the dramatic evidence that a IT manager are limited in ability to process all the information that is available, assess its accuracy and relevancy and determine the best course of project action in a timely manner. This model, when applied to strategic, complex projects results either in indecision or in poor quality decisions, leading to frustration among team members, customers, sponsors and stakeholders. But as projects get more complex the manager’s ability to process all the information required to make good decisions can be severely limited making this type of performance criteria unrealistic. In the early 1990s, leading management authors began to write about the “New Managerial Work” being brought about by information technology. The trend is not new, but its impacts are still being felt across management as evidenced by technology companies’ inventing more personal information gadgets that allow an abundance of information to follow workers everywhere they go. But today’s world of information technology has been largely unsuccessful in corralling the information overload, management has access to an abundance of information that it cannot process quickly enough for effective decision-making. The constraints are not the information itself, but the human brain and its capacity to process information. This constraint is driving the decentralization of decision-making since one person alone cannot process all the information.


Aug 20, 2012

We have all been there, stakeholders who don’t want to cooperate and management giving them a free pass. Your capabilities are being tested; your judgment is being questioned, your loyalty evaluated. Your knowledge skills and experience are at center of these political battles that play out in the project environment. What decisions will you make? Just let the conflicts flourish unabated? Confront the stakeholder(s)? Bury your head in the sand and blame others? Or…try to lead the project organization to higher ground. What ultimately determines your actions and decisions as a project manager is courage. Courage is a state of mind that enables a project leader to face uncertainty, fear or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution. The Latin root of courage is “fortitudo” meaning strength of mind that allows one to endure adversity. Project leaders must be ardent, passionate, mentally tenacious, morally brave and steadfast to succeed as a transforming service-based project leader. A barrier in organizations to a project manager becoming convinced of the need for them to lead is an environment that rewards dysfunctional behavior. The project leader juggling numerous projects and the associated demands is often soured by highly political, monetary-based management whose philosophy is, “What have you done for me lately?”, Or “we all remember your last project screw up.” The organizational culture impacts emotion, attitude and behavior. But leadership has a great influence on culture. Project workers will often conform to workplace attitudes. Professional behaviors are often learned through co-workers and the environment experienced. Who is a better place then to influence project worker behavior? You, the project leader!

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