How to handle 'duff' projects!

A recent multi-national workshop generated a fascinating debate on what to do if you don't believe in the project you are trying to manage.

The scenario put to us was as follows: a senior decision-maker has handed you a project to complete that appears to offer no benefit to the business, is not aligned to any company strategies or goals and as far as you can see, is a complete waste of time and resource. The question was posed, how do I get my team to engage with it?

Here are some of the tactics suggested both by our consultant and delegates to get things back on track.

As team leader, you will find it extremely difficult to enthuse your team and bring off a success if you don't believe in the project yourself! So it is critical for your sanity and for the professional management of the project that you keep an open mind and actively gather the information required to understand what this project is or could be about.

If it is at all possible get access to the person who wants the project to happen. Ask him or her to help you better understand how this project aligns with business goals, for example ask what benefits are expected and for whom, what is driving this project to be progressed, what would the business impact be if it did not happen and who stands to lose. If you still have concerns express them. If you can't approach the decision-maker direct, go to your line manager or sponsor and ask for advice. These are not easy conversations to have but they are vital.

Be prepared to acknowledge that your perspective on the viability of the project may be the perspective that needs adjusting. Challenge your own bias, thinking, reasons.

Many of these 'duff' projects have just not been thought through properly. You may find that trying to determine what the project goals are is almost impossible. This does not necessarily mean that the project is a bad idea; it may mean that the project generator has had an idea that he or she does not quite know how to articulate. A good team leader will be prepared to talk it through with the decision-maker and so help them formalise their idea into a viable project. Once again, engaging your project sponsor (if you have one) will smooth your path.

One more thought before I will leave you to ponder how you would handle such a situation. Inherent in the whole concept of a project is the possibility that it is not viable. This is what distinguishes projects from processes.

If you are handed a doubtful project see your first challenge as giving you and the business the best chance of realizing how viable it is as it progresses. If you can create a viable project out of what appeared a less than promising start, great! Equally if through professional challenge and surfacing data the project is formally closed down during its journey then equally a strong result.

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