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George, I'd suggest that weak, invisible or generally ineffective sponsors would be pretty lethal, especially if they are unable to get this issue resolved.
I agree with Kiron regarding the ineffective sponsor. But I would add the low to non committed stakeholder. It is compounded if they are a SME as well and have critically needed input.
My worst kryptonite comes from micro-managing resource managers. Whether the project is strict waterfall, scrum, kanban, or some mix, most PMs do not "own" the project resources as direct reports and request people from shred pools controlled by resource managers. When the PM is able to assign and manage the work for each resource as needed to stay on plan things go swimmingly. But when each assignment has to be approved by the resource manager and is subject to arbitrarily shifting priorities it's nearly impossible to maintain a schedule.
My Kryptonite is the yes man ( Stakeholders ) are willing to help and solve everything ( very sociable ), but in practice never move a finger to solve nothing and everytime we ask to do something again they say yes again and never nothing is done. As result delays and pending tasks sometimes become unbearable. So the solution is avoid falling down in that trap.
It looks like we have a common strain of kryptonite – “Stakeholders.”
Finding the formula that makes stakeholder kryptonite inert has been the “holy grail” of projecticians for half a century. I believe it’s time for us to radically-accept the nature of our nemesical benefactors and focus our efforts on an antidote for neutralizing the effects of the kryptonite on ourselves and our teams.
If you agree with this metaphorical resolution, how do we accomplish it?
It is those executives and managers ultimately responsible for the success of the projects and not the PMs. The reason they intervene in the running of the projects is more than obvious and it is common sense especially in critical projects.
In addition many PMs are subject matter experts in project management only and they are unable to lead the project teams at the technical level. You need technical (functional) managers to lead the project team members when it comes to work-related decisions. Those managers that are managing the project team members don't want to do the PM's jobs they just want to manage their direct reports focusing on the work related issues that are part of the project.
It's no different than, for example, hiring a software developer and then letting a VP write all the code, or hiring a chauffeur and then making him sit in the back seat while you drive.
All of this is only meant in the context of this conversation. What is it that makes Superman weak? Kryptonite. What's something that can make a good project manager powerless? Executives.
Difficult stakeholders in Matrix organisation can make your project impossible to succeed. And by "difficult" I mean they have exceeded all limits ...
Very often management and the business users change their minds and when they do there is no point on continuing with the existing plan. If you do continue then you would deliver something that nobody really wants.
I feel that many PMs are eager to deliver the project no matter what and get very upset when the business users change the requirements on the go or management (executives) change priorities.
But look at the bright sight if stakeholder management had been a easy task then project management would have been a trivial job, less important and most likely paid less.
PMs complaining about the stakeholders being their worse problem in project management is like firefighters complaining that fire is what prevents them to do a better job. :P
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