Project Management

A Perception Change: Moving the Goal Post

Laura Dallas Burford is the founder of LAD Enterprizes, a management consulting firm that partners with consultants as well as internal and external consulting organizations to successfully build the operational and delivery aspects of their practices. Laura appreciates feedback on her articles and can be reached at [email protected]. She is the author of Project Management for Flat Organizations.

Have you ever shaken your head in disbelief because a sponsor stated, “This is not what I expected”? Your reaction might be to dispute the statement, particularly if you believe the expectations articulated by the sponsor were met. Maybe you just sit back and contemplate what just happened, wondering what you missed. You realize the success or failure of any project is based on each person’s perception, so how did you not see that sponsor’s perception of success had changed?

That something could be as simple as time passes. The business as well as project changed, resulting in the sponsor’s perception of success changing. The goal post moved. The team never noticed it, resulting in the “customer” not being satisfied.

Project managers and team members excel at managing the project schedule, but many of us are not accustomed to revisiting the original premise of a project. The project manager might not even be aware that the original premise changed—or that perceptions of what is expected and what constitutes success also changed. Simply put, the project manager and team got busy and focused on the execution of the project. They did not listen to the noise, see the unspoken signals or stop to ask questions. They missed the change until it was too late.

There are four very simple and practical “perception” risk …

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"I'd rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate."

- George Burns