“Yeah, well, you just don’t get it.”

How many times have you heard those words? (Or how many times have you spoken them?)

It’s a very common phrase in the workplace, and is steeped in denial and fear. These words are meant to justify a specific course of action and are ultimately self-destructive.

Project environments are particularly prone to this behaviour, because they often involve news of scope change. While scope change isn’t a bad thing, it can invalidate existing work approaches, breaking momentum and throwing everyone into a tizzy. For some, it’s easier to accept the scope change and continue on an irrelevant course, than it is to stop, take a breath, and figure out the best next steps for everyone involved.

Take for example, the following dialogue:

— “The client wants a ton of changes that won’t fit in the budget and I’m
going to have to make them for free.”

— “But that’s not reasonable.”

— “Yeah, well, you just don’t get it.”

In this case, fear of explaining the nature of project rework to the client is pushing the speaker to lock himself into a) personally paying for the changes or b) demanding that the service providers perform free change work.

Leadership. A demotivational poster courtesy of PaDumBumPsh on Flickr.

There’s an aspect of martyrdom to this behaviour that, while not necessarily intentional, can result in project workers resenting the speaker. If the behaviour is persistent, project workers may come to refuse to work or dig their heels in, making life difficult for the rest of the team. If the team slows down work, the project can run into trouble.

The project manager’s job is not to blindly accept and try to satisfy all of the client’s arbitrary wishes. Their job is to deliver the project. To do so means presenting facts to the client, so the client can make informed decisions.

If the facts are, scope changes are going to require additional funding, or require more time, behaving otherwise is a flaw in judgment that won’t lead any place good.

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I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
  • Ty Kiisel

    Geoff,

    Great post. If I understand you correctly, I think the most significant thing you mention is, “The project manager’s job is not to blindly accept and try to satisfy all of the client’s arbitrary wishes. Their job is to deliver the project. To do so means presenting facts to the client, so the client can make informed decisions.”

    In other words, a project manager might not be able to do anything about whether or not any particular scope change is approved or not, but his or her job is not to roll over and be bullied—but to make sure that the costs and consequences in time and effort are clear to stakeholders before a change in scope is approved. However, ultimately, if stakeholders (or customers) demand a change in scope, it will more than likely end up happening. Realizing this might help ease that pain of beating your head against a wall. (Which, by the way, doesn’t help.)

    —Ty

  • Hey, Ty, thanks so much! You’re correct. Often times, a project manager sees him or herself holding the burden of all decisions for the project. That should never be the case. Unless the project manager is also the sponsor (not a good idea), the PM’s job should be to understand the depth and breadth of all project attributes, in order to present choices.

    Stakeholders often don’t realize what they’re asking. How many times have we heard, “oh, just change that it’ll take your guys like five minutes.” In these cases, the stakeholders have no idea how much effort is involved, or what side consequences may emerge from the ask. It’s the project manager’s job to say “well, first of all, it won’t take five minutes, and secondly, if we do that, blah blah blah might happen…we’ll need to ask the other stakeholders if they’re okay with that.”

    A project manager who nods like a dashboard bobble head anytime a stakeholder asks for something will find they lose control of all the different pieces, and sends the project into a tailspin.

    As for beating your head against a wall, do you have a permanent lump on your forehead too? I named mine “Oscar”.

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  • Anonymous

    Hey Geoff,

    It’s been a while since I last commented and I happened to latch on the same paragraph as Ty but for slightly different reasons.

    If my memory serves me right, the anti gold plating law of 1906 states that “doing whatever the client wants just to be nice” is not acceptable. It turns out that being nice, running out of money, not delivering, and going to court over the whole thing is not so nice after all.

    On a brighter note, sometimes scope change actually end up decreasing the cost and shortening the schedule. I know, it sounds like a tale but it is true.

    Patrick Richard ing., PMP
    http://www.thehardnosedpm.com
    @hardnosedpm
    http://www.heavyrotations.com

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