Seeking Clarity


Company culture, organization culture, program culture, and project culture: when all these cultures exist in harmony with one another, you have the greatest opportunity for effective project delivery because you have intense clarity. Earlier we defined clarity as “freedom from obscurity and ease of understanding.” From a program perspective, clarity is defined by clear objectives for success, clear lines of accountability, and adherence to established project process.

The number one enemy that results from not having clarity is apathy. Apathy occurs when the chaos in the organization reaches a point at which individuals feel their effort doesn’t matter, is wasted, or is severely hampered. People become apathetic and just go through the motions without passion, energy, or a sense of purpose. All these characteristics of a chaotic program management culture are contributors to an apathetic worker or team.

Fix the Cause of the Problem

Have you ever worked in or been associated with an organization that had problems everywhere, but they all seemed too big to solve? Almost everyone has. Many times, the majority of these problems didn’t start out being too big to solve; rather, people in the company allowed them to become larger and more intertwined. Eventually, the problem reached the point where it took more than one person, one department, or one business unit to solve it, making its elimination a much greater challenge. This situation is amplified when there are processes in the work environment that do not have single points of accountability. No one is accountable, and it seems that no one can fix the problem.

Many good leaders fear problems that lie below the radar. That is why the program manager must have project processes in place to quickly surface problems so that the company can resolve them. There is nothing wrong with having a two-year or multiyear plan to alleviate a problem if that’s how long it takes. The point is that you must create a strategy and implement a plan; otherwise, the problem continues to resurface and spawn new problems. Without a plan to alleviate problems, apathy develops as workers feel forced to deal with obvious problems yet see no plan or effort toward their resolution. Even worse, many project processes have a way of growing over time, and when there is a problem with a process, people tend to work outside the process to accomplish work or may “bandage” the process. Years and years of bandage remedies without a cure result in problems that seem intractable (entrenched ugliness) and often create new problems with unforeseen consequences.

I have a very simple metric for gauging the health of a program or an organization: the age of project issues. Issues are like fish; when they get old, they stink. A sure sign of a lack of leadership (chaos and correspondingly poor organizational performance) is old project issues or issues that take longer than necessary to resolve. Project issues are obstacles that get in the way of execution. It is the program manager’s role to resolve and eliminate these issues as quickly as possible regardless of the owner or the cause. If an issue stands in the way of executing program objectives or makes it difficult for project managers to perform, it’s your responsibility as program manager to resolve it.

Remember that accountability plus discipline equals integrity and results in clarity. Clarity is the goal, an unobstructed pathway to success.

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“The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management, Second Edition” by James T. Brown is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. ©2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Purchase the book on Amazon.