executive assembled a team to replan and rework the
project’s technical implementation to address the
problems that had degraded its performance and its
reputation. Acting like a firefighter, this executive
“ran to the problem,” engineered the development of
a reworked recovery plan, and reversed the attitudes
and behaviors of those who had drifted away from
the project. Of course, in organizational climates that
do not embrace problems as opportunities or believe
that almost all project problems can be prevented,
team members and contributors may be hesitant to
voice their concerns. This compromises the project
leader’s ability to fully grasp current project realities
and take appropriate action to revitalize an effort. 19
This caveat underscores the importance of having all
project contributors communicate with integrity.
9. Have the courage to pull the plug when
warranted. Sometimes a leader must accept that a
project’s reputation and momentum are beyond salvage. The project has spiraled so far down the cycle of
doubt and performance has degraded to such an extent that the best course of action is to acknowledge
defeat, capture and communicate the lessons learned,
and formulate next steps to address the “why” that
motivated the project in the first place. Not surprisingly, as one project leader told us, “This is probably
the hardest thing for managers to do.” 20 Yet, struggling
on in these circumstances damages the project leader’s reputation, drains team members’ energy and
commitment, and squanders company resources.
One project leader told a dismal tale of an experience as a team member on a once important,
product-testing design project that seemed endless
because of the emergence of other initiatives that were
“hot priorities.” In other words, other projects entered
the portfolio, stole the spotlight, and siphoned away
scarce resources. After six months of poorly attended
team meetings and limited progress, the project leader
finally terminated the initiative. Although painful,
that decision freed up resources for more pressing
work and demonstrated the project manager’s leadership abilities and commitment to the organization.
Resist the Cycle of Doubt
Even the most technically sound and strategically important projects can be sucked into the cycle of doubt,
a self-perpetuating vortex that draws energy and
needed support away from a project and diminishes its
status in the organization. A solid plan and strong
launch are essential but do not guarantee success.
Savvy project leaders recognize debilitating factors that
can stall forward momentum and bring initiatives to a
halt. These include unclear or changing organizational
priorities, loss of support from key sponsors, problems
with project delivery, and insufficient or misrepresented project messaging. They also have action plans
in place to monitor and correct these forces and
communication strategies to mitigate negative consequences. (See “Averting the Cycle of Doubt.”)
By putting into practice the ideas and actions
AVERTING THE CYCLE OF DOUBT
Use the checklist below to assess the degree to which your project is positioned to forestall or recover
from the cycle of doubt. The more items you can check, the more doubt-resistant your project is. Check all
A pilot offers proof of concept.
The project is short or has been broken into phases with meaningful deliverables that demonstrate forward progress.
Core team members are dedicated exclusively to the project and are colocated.
Key stakeholders are involved in developing a project plan that includes a comprehensive assessment of project risks and
how to prepare for them.
Stakeholders receive frequent, timely updates that reflect the true status of project progress and outcomes.
Throughout the project, the project leader and project team proactively and genuinely seek feedback from key stakeholders and
demonstrate appropriate adjustments based on this input.
The project leader and team cultivate and maintain the support of influential stakeholders.
If internal resources are insufficient for the project’s timing or scope, external resources have been sought to fill the gap.
Problems are addressed head-on and are not left to fester.