Tales from the front lines: A project that is spinning out of control

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on August 07, 2009 in: Project Management

This story didn’t happen to me (thank goodness) but it happened to a good friend of mine and he agreed to let me share it as long as I didn’t share the names of the guilty parties.

There’s a corporation that is exploring their future as a company. It’s not a big corporation but it has enough staff and revenues over 5 states to support its 7 person board of directors. The company has been successful but is sensing that the market it once served well is dividing into two and there is some debate about which piece of the market to pursue. (And yes, they only are able to pursue one of the two markets for a variety of reasons that I’m not at liberty to share). I was interested in this process and following it closely with my friend because it is very much an implementation/project management effort.

So, this board is exploring which market to pursue and each board member was tasked with first writing down their own ideas about which market to pursue, and second, sending those ideas to the chairperson who would assemble each person’s ideas and present them all at once at an upcoming meeting. Easy enough!

It was easy until one of the board members decided to bypass the process and just share his or her opinions with everyone.

Ouch! Can you hear the sound of this once-helpful process being flushed down the drain? I can.

As you might have imagined, someone took the bait and responded with harsh criticism and their own point of view. Then someone else joined in (presumably under the assumption that if these two were going to have their say, then this third person couldn’t leave well enough alone). Sadly, the board of directors turned into a schoolyard shouting match (via email) when 3 factions arose among them.

No good can come from this. I’m telling you that now. This will not end well. Here’s why:

  • They won’t solve the problem over email.
  • When they arrive at their board meeting, they won’t go with fresh minds, but rather they will go in full battle gear.
  • Some ideas have been heard while other ideas may not have been but this is a scenario where the squeakiest wheel will “outsqueak” anyone else.

If I were that chairperson, I would have shut it down after the first email went out with a short, snappy email from me that put an end to anyone else’s idea of responding. What needs to happen next is this: Postpone the meeting, let cooler heads prevail, and spend time thinking about a different way to approach the situation. Perhaps a market analysis or some other activity would be a good neutral approach to “gather more information” before everyone revisits their points of view.

Happy Blogging!

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