Hero to zero

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So its been a really smooth month you know youve done a great job. You started green and youve ended green. No instances of being hauled in front of the critical project steering group. The end user stakeholders barely noticed that any change had occurred because you involved and engaged them months ago so the change is really no big deal. Youre feeling triumphant.

As you walk down the corridor you see the COO coming in the opposite direction youre not expecting thanks that would be too much in the company culture but at least you should get a nod and a smile. At ten feet separation you look for eye contact and begin to smile at two feet you get worried and then it happens

Youve been completely blanked. You slow your step and glance backwards over your shoulder, your steps falter and then slowly you pick yourself up and stroll away.

At home youre moody. Your other half asks and having replied Its nothing. half a dozen times, you finally open up and the emotions spill out. You dont get it. Youve done everything right, caused no worries to anyone, No surprises anywhere. Full and gentle buy in. Your faultless text book list of project excellence is almost endless. The ultimate zero defect perfect project!. After a half hour rant you pause.

Your other half looks at you with a puzzled expression, almost accusing. Softly and gently they say Well, you probably made it look too easy so no one recognises how hard it was and what a great job youve done.

You feel like youve been slapped. Your brain reels. It cant be No they cant be that stupid. And then slowly it dawns on you. No crises = no senior stakeholder mindshare. No mindshare= not important enough for me (senior and important as I am) to look at.

Well youre starting your next project on Thursday. You have a plan.

This time youll succeed. But this time youll be a hero. When any thing goes wrong youll make sure every one knows and then youll move more than heaven and earth, again making sure everyone knows, to put it right. Youre not unethical you wont start the fires yourself but youll let them get big enough to notice but not dangerous and then fetch the fire extinguisher.

But youre not a gangster, you would love to do the right things and not manipulate people or the situation for your own ends. If only there was a way to demonstrate to everyone that the work you had done had prevented issues well in advance. You dont want another metric or someone else to try to measure and control you what you need is a grown-up self assessment where you could monitor your own effectiveness, patting yourself on the back when you avoided things going wrong and slapping your own wrist when they didnt.

And if someone did ask you could still be a hero even though zero had gone wrong. You needed to have one of those envelopes magicians always sellotape to the bottom of the chair at the start of the trick. You know the ones which they open at the end and say, if you remember before I asked you to choose a random bank note I wrote the number I predicted and sealed it in this envelope and now I can reveal

In a world where every project succeeds we need to rethinkour attitudes to who the project heroes are. Rethink the cultures we have and which behaviours they encourage. Educate our key leaders and senior stakeholders to be able to better realise the difference between quiet calm competence and frenetically delivering at the margins.

If learning more about this is of interest to you join us for Conference: ZERO on the 17th of October and look out for the sessions on Performance Indicators

Edward Obeng

Posted by Edward Obeng on 4th Oct 2015

About the Author

Professor Eddie Obeng is an educator, TED speaker and author of nine books, including Perfect Projects, published by Pentacle Works, and All Change! The Project Leader’s Secret Handbook, published by the Financial Times.
Reach Eddie on Twitter @EddieObeng or read his blog: imagineafish.com

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