Ethics Bistro

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We all tackle ethical dilemmas. Wrong decisions can break careers. Which are the key challenges faced? What are some likely solutions? Where can we find effective tools? Who can apply these and why? Dry, theoretical discussions don't help. Join us for lively, light conversations to learn, share and grow!

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Ethics and Trust: The Case of the Miraculous Program Recovery

By Dr. Valerie Denney,  EMAG member

In this blog, I encourage you to comment on this hypothetical, but realistic case, that describes a program that had an apparent miraculous recovery.

Trust and ethics…. Two powerful, yet common words.  Do we just use the words as slogans without stopping to think about what they really mean?

“Trust, but verify.”

“In God we trust.”

“Got ethics?”

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Let’s begin with a simple definition for ethics:  the rules of conduct for a particular culture or group. Using a thesaurus yields words such as integrity, morality, honesty, and conscience. For trust, let’s use reliance on the ability, integrity, and surety of an individual or institution.

Covey, in his bestseller, The Speed of Trust, describes trust with all stakeholders as a key leadership competency. Project managers, as with other leaders, build trust by the manner in which they make ethical decisions- those which make the best possible choices while working within the constraints and expectations of the environment. Leadership is inextricability linked with ethical choices.

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As project and program managers, we have an obligation to comply with the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. The code embraces four global project management community values including responsibility, respect, fairness, and honesty. In context to this topic, respect is our duty to show a high regard to ourselves, others, and the resources entrusted to us. Honesty is our duty to understand the truth and act in a truthful manner in all that we do.

Consider the following situation with respect to ethics and trust.

You are the program manager of a high technology contract that has significant risk. There were a number of bumps on the program in the first 9 months including key personal issues, supplier problems, design errors, and late contract deliverables.  Since then, everything seems to be going well… at least according to your chief engineer.  Apparently program recoveries can come true!

You haven’t heard of any significant problems since this new chief engineer came to the program 5 months ago.  In fact, the weekly test metrics are excellent and far better than they were 4 months ago.  According to last week’s report, we are meeting, and in some places exceeding, the test completion plan. 

Last week a government auditor was at our facility for the annual review of the program. She and the chief engineer are good friends and served in the military together.  They go back at least 15 years. As friends, the chief engineer and the auditor went for an evening on the town. The chief engineer bragged “I have found a foolproof way of keeping the program on track.  All I need to do is estimate the results of the simple tests. I am positive everything works so actually I am being efficient and saving time and money.” The auditor gave a puzzled look, but continued the reunion that evening.

The next day, the auditor continued the review and stumbled across some problems with the way the test data was recorded.  Some of the detailed evidence seems to be missing.  A few days later, the auditor meets with you, and reveals a number of deficiencies, including issues with the test reporting.

You are shocked. How is this possible? There must be some mistake.  The chief engineer assured you that everything was great and you believed it to be true.

You meet with the chief engineer for clarification. The chief admits that there have been shortcuts, “but only on the tests that don’t really matter.  We all know those simple tests work, so why waste our time and money on a formality?”

The meeting ends abruptly. You trusted the chief engineer to be a leader and a technical expert?  You ask yourself “how could this happen?”

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What action(s)  would you take now?

What lesson(s) can we take from this scenario so we don’t encounter similar situations in the future?

In the end, performing ethically allows us to execute projects and programs successfully while acting in a manner which is consistent with our personal, company, and professional associations. Simply stated O’Brochta (2016) wrote that “ethics lead to trust, which leads to leadership, which in turn leads to project success.” This hypothetical case allows us to continue to explore this statement.

For more ethical resources please visit: https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics.

O'Brochta, M. (2016). Why project ethics matter: Leadership is built on trust. If the foundation is cracked, a project's future is in doubt. PM Network, 30(1), 29.

Posted by Valerie Denney on: August 14, 2018 01:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)
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