Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 51;   December 20, 2006: Managing Pressure: The Unexpected

Managing Pressure: The Unexpected

by

When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing pressure.

Sponsors, customers, and management all expect projects to deliver what they promised, for the price promised, by the date promised. When they perceive that progress isn't in line with expectations, they can apply pressure to the project team, and that pressure can itself become a hindrance.

Freeway damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake

Freeway damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta, California, earthquake. Unexpected events often have unexpected consequences.

Photo by U.S. Geological Survey courtesy Wikipedia.

Here are some insights about the unexpected that can help with managing and preventing pressure. See "Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations," Point Lookout for December 13, 2006, and "Managing Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries," Point Lookout for December 27, 2006, for more.

Educate everyone about the inevitability of setbacks
When a setback happens, perceptions of progress can change permanently, even if the setback is eventually overcome, and even if time lost is recovered. If customers or sponsors have to report the setback to people who have great organizational power, they are sometimes subject to personal consequences.
Outside the context of any specific project, educate sponsors and managers about setbacks. Explain that because project work has either never been done before, or has never been done by this organization, setbacks are inevitable. When setbacks happen, be open about them. Hiding them or spinning them puts your own credibility at risk.
Be wary of near-delivery setbacks
Setbacks just prior to delivery are especially problematic. Customers might have made preparations for the delivery and those arrangements constitute both financial and psychological commitment. A setback just prior to delivery creates embarrassment, frustration, and irritation, which can lead to distrust and perceived lack of progress that are otherwise unwarranted.
Monitor internal status carefully just prior to any delivery. As soon as you know of problems that put delivery at risk, pass the information along. Help people mitigate the consequences of slips, and commit to all this in the project plan.
Keep loads uniform
Setbacks just
prior to delivery
are especially
problematic
Uniform loads create a sense of steady progress. Load variations, especially spikes, degrade assessments of progress. For instance, if a project undergoes a crisis requiring an out-of-plan management decision, management endures a load spike. Afterwards, the incident isn't forgotten - it usually lingers in the form of degraded perceptions of progress. Similar effects occur within the project team.
When trouble looms, inform management early, to give them time to prepare for decision-making. Balance the loads on project team members carefully, making schedule changes as necessary — if you can — to keep loads uniform.
Don't expect breakthroughs to erase anxiety
Breakthroughs usually seem less significant than setbacks of similar magnitude. Hyping breakthroughs to enhance morale, or to correct perceptions about progress, probably won't work — people tend to discount such announcements because they tend to serve the project's leaders' interests.
Use breakthroughs instead to enhance the status of the people who achieve them. Honor them and recognize them. You'll do more for morale that way than you can accomplish by trying to send the all-is-now-well message to skeptical audiences.

Next time we'll look at managing pressure by means of defining milestones, deliveries, and their spacing. Go to top Top  Next issue: Managing Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Micromanagement is a common source of pressure. For insights on micromanagers and micromanaging, see "When Your Boss Is a Micromanager," Point Lookout for December 5, 2001; "There Are No Micromanagers," Point Lookout for January 7, 2004; "Are You Micromanaging Yourself?," Point Lookout for November 24, 2004; and "How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager," Point Lookout for March 7, 2007.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZepUdJhqqJEfKUbaner@ChacNnYTInDiIowxUNOHoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

A harrow in actionWhen Others Curry Favor
When peers curry favor with the boss, many of us feel contempt, an urge for revenge, anger, or worse. Trying to stop those who curry favor probably isn't an effective strategy. What is?
Mars as seen by the Hubble TelescopeMore Indicators of Scopemonging
Scope creep — the tendency of some projects to expand their goals — is usually an unintended consequence of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's part of a hidden agenda that some use to overcome budgetary and political obstacles.
John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), seventh Vice President of the United StatesImpasses in Group Decision-Making: I
Groups sometimes find that although they cannot agree on the issue at hand in its entirety, they can agree on some parts of it. Yet, they remain stuck, unable to reach a narrow agreement before moving on to the more thorny areas. Why does this happen?
A dead Manchurian AshWorkplace Politics and Type III Errors
Most job descriptions contain few references to political effectiveness, beyond the fairly standard collaborate-to-achieve-results kinds of requirements. But because true achievement often requires political sophistication, understanding the political content of our jobs is important.
Head of the philosopher Carneades (215-129 BCE)The Perils of Novel Argument
When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen?

See also Workplace Politics, Conflict Management and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) speaks at a recent Senate hearingComing October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
A man, standing, explaining something to a woman, seatedAnd on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenYgBmzsYdxvnpPODxner@ChacoRBNKwxssJAbwXDmoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.