Dealing With a Runaway Team

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at andy.jordan@roffensian.com. Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

A new PM recently reached out to me for advice about a situation he was having on his project. It was a traditional, waterfall model and he had built a plan in conjunction with his team. But now that the work was underway, the team wasn’t following that plan—and it wasn’t listening to the PM when he tried to get team members back on track. They were still working hard, and things were still moving forward, but not in accordance with the plan. What was going on here with this “runaway” team?

This may be a more extreme example, but the situation is not actually that unusual. I can think of multiple situations from my own projects where the work done didn’t follow the original plan, and there are almost always good reasons for that. The challenge for new project managers is figuring out those reasons and correcting things. And they do need correcting; the work done can’t be completely separate from the plan for an extended period or you will have no insight into how things are going.

Assume the plan is the problem
When this situation arises, it’s natural to try and correct the behavior of the team, but that’s usually the wrong approach. Teams don’t go out of their way to do things wrong, or to cause problems for the project. If they are not following the plan—especially when multiple team members are involved…

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