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Is Your Project Going Under? When It’s Time to Pull Back the Reins

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 10/4/2013

Does it ever seem like your project teams are arguing constantly, nothing is getting done and stakeholders keep changing project goals in the middle? If so, you are not alone because at the U.S. government level, this happens all the time.

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    Should You Agree to Disagree?

    Is FEMA a disaster project Lately, our top Republican and Democratic leaders seem to be more interested in arguing over the very silly instead of trying to accomplish the goals we hired them to complete in the first place. After all, if we look at all of them from a project management perspective, we, the American People are the clients (or end-users).

    Those shocked by a government shut-down should not be. This is what happens when there is no compromise on either side.

    This problem by our “project management" leaders should be easily solved by a simple, “yep, pass it out and give it up already" but this never happens because our project leaders sit back in hopes that other leaders will step in on a private or state level and they’re winning that game.

    This is nothing new. In 2011 after each natural disaster, both the American Red Cross and state governments scrambled in, offered up shelters, food and emergency assistance while our leaders in Washington sat on their bottoms arguing about if they should take $100 million away from a guaranteed loan program funding Solyndra (a solar panel government-funded company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy—and was also under investigation by the FBI), although why they are under the FBI magnifying glass is unclear.

    Our project leaders also thought perhaps it was time to revisit cutting more millions from another government green fund set up to build and manufacture environmentally friendly cars (actually $151 million offered up by the Obama administration in a grant form). Apparently, the places getting these funds aren’t doing much with them, at least not fast enough as of yet. To fund both Solyndra and energy-friendly cars in a time when the country is in such a mess only shows how important it is for our leaders to step back, look at where the money is going, agree to disagree and start allocating dollars (without the red tape) to where it’s really needed—but alas, this just can’t and won’t happen folks.

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    It’s Time for Some Decision Making

    Step up and manage your team I must say here, as our top leaders argue, make fun of one another and appear to be more interested in debate after debate and Campaign 2016, the people who are hurting the most are the ones who elected them in the first place.

    These leaders had problems with the debt ceiling, and will most likely continue to have these problems. In fact, one economist (Emily C. Skarbek), also the director of, actually told government blogger Tom Shoop that the government decides where FEMA funds go and “FEMA consistently responds to political influence rather than the victims’ needs." Skarbek went on and told Shoop, “…Economists Thomas Garrett and Russell Sobel studied FEMA’s policies and found that disaster expenditures are strongly determined by whether the states affected are important to the president’s reelection and whether the local congressional representatives are members of FEMA oversight committees." Now that’s some scary stuff folks.

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    When It’s Time to Cut Your Losses

    Learn to cut your losses Much like the sporadic leadership in Washington today, too much disagreement, poor direction and indecision can and will make a project fail. Many project teams these days include diversity and while this is a good thing, knowing when to step up to the pump and say enough is enough takes some strong decision-making skills that may not make you very popular as the project leader.

    What project leaders can learn from the continuous disagreements we see at high government levels is knowing when too much indecision is bad for the project. This makes every stakeholder unhappy and will become a trust issue if managers miss the mark on effective management.

    Know when it’s time to pull your team together and take charge, even if you have to use focus groups or brainstorming sessions. Better yet, encourage your group to agree to disagree, especially when you see the project falling into the black hole of no return.

    You may not be able to convince the entire team, upper management, suppliers or even clients but what you can do is enforce your leadership style with strong authority so disagreements are softened and compromise becomes reality.

    Learning and utilizing some good negotiation skills will also help here, although when things are this bad, the win-win method may never work.

    Have you ever been involved in a project where so many opinions and disagreements have your project at a standoff or worse, a standstill? If so, drop me a comment on what you did to pull in the reigns and get the project on track.

    Let’s start a discussion on the best way to tackle these issues, some best practices and most importantly, types of leadership styles that work best when everyone seems to be in fisticuffs.