Can I have a show of hands?

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on July 30, 2009 in: Project Management

“Can I have a show of hands?” is a project killer.

There, I said it.

If you’ve said this, you can be forgiven for saying it because few people realize just how poisonous it is to a project. Part of the reason is that most of us have grown up in a democratic society (whether the US or somewhere else – many places have some kind of democratic process in place) and we value democracy as a right and a key to our freedom as human beings. When we have a say, we have power and provide a check and balance to those we have asked to be in charge.

Democracy is a “must have” in politics… but it should not be present in project management. Project management is not a democracy. There are a few reasons for this:

  • In the political arena, points of view are combined and large groups of people speak as one. Individually, they might each have massively varying views, but within a pre-defined category, they vote en masse. However, a project is a smaller group of people so each voice (and each individual’s point of view) can be heard loud and clear.
  • In the political arena we theoretically have one vote per person (although even this has some flex with concepts like the USA’s electoral colleges). In projects, not all people are created equal. Bosses have more authority. The janitor doesn’t get a vote. Some people are paid more than others. Some people have more “skin in the game” than others. Some people know more than others.
  • In the political arena, our votes are private, secure, and no one else’s business but our own (unless we share it with others). In projects, a show of hands around the table looks like democracy but isn’t because a sharp glare by a highly influential person or a desire to “not make waves” can sway a vote.

Instead, projects need to be consultative. In other words, one person is the decision maker and bases his or her decision on the full input from every other person on the team, as well as other critical parties (like the project’s sponsor). That person needs to be trusted with the power to make those decisions and to expect them to be followed-through by others.

In politics, few of us would want to live in a place where the leader had that kind of authority. But in projects, it’s a different story. Democracy is good in the right place but in projects you shouldn’t invite people to raise their hands.

Happy Blogging!

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