Reading about the trials and tribulations of Boeing as it brings the 787 Dreamliner to market reminded me of a poster I saw in a clients office. It described the Six Steps Of A Project. They are:
1 – Enthusiasm
2 – Disillusionment
3 – Panic
4 – Search for the Guilty
5 – Punishment of the Innocent
6 – Praise and Glory for the Nonparticipants
At first I thought they were funny, but then realized in humor there is a lot of truth.
Fortunately, unlike the Four Stages of Change – Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing, that always happen in any and all projects and change, the Six Steps, while fairly common, don’t. They are reserved for those efforts that really get off the rails, and where the organizational culture focuses on blame rather than problem solving.
I’ve been the fly on the wall at enough project meetings to know what’s going on in the minds of many of the team members.
Here’s what one member of a project team may have thought while working through the Six Steps of a project.
Step 1 – Enthusiasm – “High hopes, everyone’s on board, we’re gonna make this happen – fast. Yeah, sure we’re optimistic, but why not? The Project Manager assures me we’ve learned from the past projects, he knows where the landmines are planted, and we’re not going to make the same mistakes – we’re smarter than that. Let’s go!”
Stage 2 – Disillusionment – “Damn, this is harder than we thought! We really bagged ourselves with that pie – in – the – sky estimate of time to market. I feel like the Old Cowboy in the painting the Boss has on his wall – the one with the caption “There were some things I didn’t know about this outfit before I hired on” Ain’t that the truth. I wasn’t here for the last project, but there are plenty of people telling me it had a lot of the same problems. Gotta keep a positive perspective, but with so many expectations coming up short, I don’t know.”
Stage 3 – Panic – “Yikes, we’re really in the tank on this one. Whose idea was this anyway? Everything we try turns to crap before our very eyes. I didn’t know it could be piled this high. The Boss has made it clear he’s going to get to the bottom of this pile of you know what, and when he finds out how, why and who screwed things up, it’s really going to hit the fan. I don’t want to be downwind when that happens.”
Stage 4 – Search For The Guilty – “Time to pull the hatch covers shut and hunker down and do what I’m told to do with a “Yessir” and not take any chances. Time to show up on time for those endless status meetings, keep quiet, take notes, look interested and don’t make any waves. Bad time for vacations, sick days, seminars or anything else that might make me vulnerable and question my effort. Scratch those Saturday golf games. 24/7 – here we go! I really do want this project to succeed, but I know how easy it is to get caught in the cross hairs when the chiefs are looking to blame somebody. And the person that takes it in the ear seems to always be the person at the bottom of the food chain.”
5 – Punishment of the Innocent – “Well, the Project Manager got up and gave his report on where we are in this project, what we have to do to recover and move ahead and what the issues are that need to be put to bed. He didn’t get much of a response. There was no discussion from his bosses. They didn’t seem that interested in what he had to say. The writing is on the wall, but it’s hard to see what he’s done that would put him in jeopardy. But the result is we’re behind schedule, over budget and nobody is happy. Hope he survives this – he’s actually a pretty good guy. If he doesn’t, I really want that Old Cowboy painting from his office.
6 – Praise and glory for the non participants – “We got a new Project Manager about three months ago and everything is moving along according to the revised schedule – the one the old Project Manager did. The new PM got a bigger budget and brought in talent to help beef up the Engineering effort, and she obviously has the ear of the the top people. Funny, when she has a meeting and tells the bosses the same stuff the old PM would tell them, they agree and encourage her to press on. We all feel the project is on track, but we can’t help but feel the old PM got screwed. He was the shock troop – took the crap – did the modifying and communicated the status without any BS, and the last reward he got was the opportunity to take six months with pay to find a new job. This project wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without his effort. Guess he was the wrong person at the wrong time. Too bad. Timing is everything. But that’s the way it goes. If anybody asks me to take on a new project, I’m going to say “No Thanks.” Better to be safe than sorry. The new PM gave me the the Old Cowboy painting, but told me to take it home – she said it’s message is too negative.”
If this self conversation sounds familiar to you, it’s only because so many project teams get tied up in this kind of scenario. You can bet the team members in this project will think twice before taking risk – and that’s too bad. I suspect that in blame cultures a great deal of talent ends up playing it safe – and that’s a real waste of talent.
Work to promote problem solving cultures – ones that plan with the Four Stages of Change in mind – at every level. The result of that effort is a much higher level of commitment and engagement. Make the blame game obsolete.