I have been really busy this summer with projects and proposals – hope your summer has been productive also.  In the midst of my to-do list getting bigger, I met a colleague online, Barbara Shannon, who had some great thoughts about getting management to support a project.  I have convinced her to write a post for us on the subject.  Enjoy!




“We are a war not a team. New York, Austin, Tulsa and Prague, we are each separate armies fighting to the death. We each want what we want with no regard for the business as a whole.”

This is a real quote taken from my initial interviews with a new client. Yikes! Sounds like they need a change expert, but no change readiness assessment or communication plan will put the love back in this team.

It’s CARING about and TAKING CARE of people that makes or breaks the love on a project. Take really good care of your team and your stakeholders and you will keep the love flowing right through launch and beyond. Here’s how:

You must be able to answer this one super critical question consistently in the affirmative:


I’ve often thought it would be great if businesses would pick a “Project-of-the-Year”.  Imagine just working on one project a year. A project that everyone agrees is the right project at the right time for the organization.  UNFORTUNATELY it’s rare that the whole leadership team agrees about what’s most important.

Reality is that there are always too many projects competing for too few resources and creating project ADD in the business. Here’s an example of this road to ruin:

Your project is on the MUST DO list along with 40 other projects because it is the pet idea of VP X who was just brought in to “make some positive change”. None of the other VPs believe it is a MUST DO so they don’t assign any resources to work on your project.  Once they are forced to assign resources, the people they give you know their boss is not behind the project so they are not inclined to spend much time or spread the love about your project.

And if your business leads and team members don’t love the project and don’t spend much time on it, you will surely have weak requirements, crappy coding, dirty data and missing process steps plus you can pretty much expect that the users will be uninformed and bracing for the worst when it comes time to use what you’ve built.


So what’s a project manager to do?

DON’T Just Do IT  – Put your foot down. Just Say NO! Before you commit to the project, tell the empress (project sponsor) she has no clothes.  Be the voice of reason and tell the business owners that if they are going to continue to add to your MUST DO project list, they must also agree on a STOP DOING project list. And the same goes for adding features once the project starts.

You can and should push the business leaders to get really focused about what is most important to the business and how to spend the company’s limited cash and time.

Does this sound risky to you? Well, project management is not for the faint of heart, so take a deep breath and take a stand for your sanity and for the possibility of success.  Document how many people you need and for how long and stick to it. Suggest that the leaders look at the overall project portfolio and consider cancelling or de-scoping other projects to make room for yours.

Do this at the beginning of the project. And then continue to take your stand as scope creep encroaches with every little “great idea”.  Every time the project hydra starts to grow another head, ask the business leaders to focus and choose only the most important.

Tip: It is really helpful if you can get the business leaders to agree on a short list of selection criteria that will be used to choose the top projects as well as the “must have” features.

Why This Makes the Users LOVE Your Project

Limiting the total number of projects makes a big difference and not just because focusing on just a few projects produces higher quality outcomes, but also because humans can’t focus on many things at once.  Research has proven that we actually suck at multi-tasking.  Apple does a great job of managing our limited ability to focus by offering only a few products at a time. The Apple store has only a handful of products for sale. And you can spend as much time as you want playing with them.

Imagine if we did projects this way!

Use the Apple example with your business leaders. Or stand on your head to get their attention. Remind them that they CAN do all of the projects. But the CANNOT do them all at the same time.  Business leaders know in their hearts that too many projects create diminishing returns. Someone, and it may as well be you, must help them set the stage for success by just saying no.

YOU CAN DO THIS. I’ve seen bold project managers make this case with great success. So get a credible business leader to back you up, speak with data and examples and Go For It!


This post was written by Barbara Shannon. You can find her latest ideas and change management tools on her website,  Her consulting company is, TSG The Shannon Group, Barbara is grateful to Deloitte Consulting for teaching her how to be the “wind beneath their wings”. She is a guest lecturer at the Wharton School and has written and taught case studies for conferences, consulting firms and executive education. You can email Barbara at

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