I was in a local cafe the other day working on a Kanban training course I’ll be making available sometime soon.
I grabbed the usual coffee for fuel and then a sugar avalanche of a toffee bar caught my eye. And I bought it. Because I have no impulse control whatsoever.
I chewed the first wonderful bite, eyes closed, prepared for the caloric coma.
“Hey, this is dough!”
I hate dough. What a letdown.
Back up at the counter, I explained to the woman behind the counter that my bar was under-baked.
“Oh that comes pre-baked, we don’t bake it here.”
Wha? That was her first response. Seriously.
- First, using pre-baked bakery goods is a turn off.
- Second, I don’t really care who’s fault it was. I just want my problem solved.
Your Project Stakeholders Don’t Care
Did you notice how her first priority was to redirect blame away from herself? No, “I’m so sorry, I’ll take care of that for you.” If the blame-game came after an acknowledgment and promise for a solution, it wouldn’t have been so bad.
Do any of these sound familiar?
“Well, John was the one who told me to do it that way.”
“We assumed we could model this other project. It’s not our fault.”
“I don’t know what they are complaining about, we verified the requirements.”
They are all excuses, and your project customer and stakeholders don’t care. Moreover, they shouldn’t care. Shifting blame or trying to demonstrate that, on paper, you met objectives does absolutely zilch to solve the problem.
Your customers don’t care.
And Neither Should You
On a typical project all kinds of opportunities arise to blame others. Many people do it premeditated and yet unconscious way. (An oxymoron, I know)
Do any of these sound familiar?
“They don’t know what they want, so we’ll have to guess.”
“OK, but when this comes crashing down don’t blame me. (and where’s my red Swingline stapler?)”
“Let’s do what they did. It’s not right, but they did it first so at least no one can point the finger at us.”
“At least if the contractor screws up, we can blame them.”
These are examples of planning to have an excuse. Again, no one cares. You aren’t adding any value by concocting a conspiracy of blame insurance. You must be diligent to watch for this in yourself and in your team. It’s rampant out there, I tell you! Rampant!
Just Kidding. You Should Care.
There are solutions to these problems, if you take the initiative to find and execute on them. You and your team should be asking questions of yourselves such as:
“How can we better understand our customers’ needs?”
“How can we be candid and tactful at the same time, when telling the pointy-haired boss this is a stupid idea?”
“How can we improve upon existing processes to achieve the best possible results?”
“What can we do to better collaborate with our contractors to ensure quality, timely deliveries?”
Did the cafe manager decide to purchase boxed items instead of baking them to absolve themselves of blame if things went wrong?
The world doesn’t work that way.
I won’t blame you for anything if you share/like this on Twitter or Facebook and leave a comment below with your own story and insight. Promise.
Your Customers Don’t Care is a post from: pmStudent
I love to help new project managers and working project managers further their careers.
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It is always my fault. Actually, I often take the blame for something even when I know I had nothing to do with it. Why? Opportunity to fix something that is important to someone else.
Great post, Josh! Love the accompanying image as always. @James- I admire your approach. Although, I’m still trying to decide if it’s genius or insanity… 🙂
Unfortunately, I think that the relationship between the customer’s money and the service provider’s livelihood is widely misunderstood! And yes, I think that this is applicable to project managers as well. Your sponsor isn’t a nuisance and doesn’t care whose fault it is that something went wrong – own it and fix it!
Actually, this is a question to consider before the customer even asks. “Can you provide a quality product or service within price or budget constraints?” If not, should you offer the product or service at all? If the coffee shop cannot offer quality toffee bars at a price point that allows a profit, are they better off offering lower quality toffee bars or not offering any at all. The customer will not care either way. Nor, as you point out, will they care about the reson the toffee bar is low quality. They will simply be disappointed and likely look elsewhere for coffee as well as snack bars.
The same logic can be applied to government programs. Assuming budget resources are not unlimited, is a jurisdiction better off providing a lower quality of service or not providing the service at all? The public will probably not care why the parks are a mess or the library books are out of date etc. So should multiple communities pool their resources to provide a few high quality public amenities or each go it alone with lower quality services? Obviously, certain core services (law enforcement and public safety) must be provided no matter what even if second best is all a jurisdiction can afford but many other services are optional or could be provided at better quality by pooling resources with other communities. In the long run, the customer/citizen will care less about the need to drive further to the library (or the school) than they will about the quality of the books or education provided.
Good advice for handling customers and stakeholders but I disagree that you should handle your team this way. It is so vital that the project manager has completely open and frequent communication with his or her team that you should not immediately shut them down if you detect an excuse. People don’t like to communicate bad news (especially if it was their fault) so they will hedge on you. The project manager has to build a culture of trust and this may require putting up with excuses until his or her team began to trust the PM enough to be honest in their communications.
@Bill, I think perhaps my snarky tone came across a bit more harsh than I intended!!
I’m one of the nicest guys you’ll meet (even if I do say so myself) but if something goes bad and my team members are focused on the problem and placing blame instead of the solution and lessons learned for next time, I’ll lead them in that direction. See my last section for some examples of questions I like to ask to draw solutions from the team and shift focus to that mentality, away from the blame game.
@Peter, a bit broader than my scope here but great points, nonetheless! My guess is that this situation was an anomaly and normally the products are of good quality.
Perhaps a similar example in local government services would be a city employee who accidentally rear-ends someone because their windshield is dirty and they dozed off for a moment. An inappropriate response would be “The guy who was supposed to clean the windshields called in sick. It’s his fault.” The person who just got rear-ended doesn’t really care about the department’s inability to manage staffing. They just got hit by a truck.
@Bill – I agree those are good questions and you should move your team from making excuses to making progress. It is just my experience that you don’t always get to choose your project team members and may have to do some coaching and development before they can become a high-performing team member.
It is great that you are a nice guy because PMs only have expert power and persuasive power. It is a new experience for employees who are used to the authority power of functional bosses and need some help in adapting to the new leadership style.
We are in agreement Bill. Cheers!
I agree with Josh’s statement. Young American’s use of electronics make them want everything now. I believe that we need to behave in a confidence and credibility increasing manner and implement that which must be done with excellence as we can. Because of our budget we also need to collaborate with others to achieve economies of scale. Not only can we not get away with half baked products, we owe the taxpayers better than that.
If all you bring to a project is your ability to blame others, you are easily replacable. But be willing to try to serve your customer first and you’ll quickly be irreplacible.
Thanks Carol and T. Jay!