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Go Ahead and Disobey

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In his article Intelligent Disobedience: The Difference Between Good and Great Project Managers, author Robert McGannon, PMP, says sometimes a project manager needs to be able to "protect the organisation from itself." He suggests using intelligent disobedience.
    But what is intelligent disobedience? To explain this quality, the author used an example of the program that certifies guide dogs for blind people. During the certification process, the trainer must determine whether or not the subject dog has been able to demonstrate the ability to disregard commands issued by its master under particular circumstances. An example is the guide dog refusing to cross the street when a car is coming.
    In the context of project management, there may be times when obstacles are formidable, which prompts the project manager to pursue the following tasks as stated by the author:

•    Proposing unpopular option/opinion
•    Standing up to senior management
•    Crafting compelling arguments/justifications to garner business support
•    "Bending" rules and processes when appropriate
•    Applying non-traditional techniques to create "unexpected" impressions as a means to change stakeholder perception
•    Using communication and influencing skills to protect the organization from itself

    When might a project manager break from the norm for the good of the project? The author suggests the following situations:

•    Dealing with unresponsive sponsors or key customers
•    Managing culture clashes that inhibit project progress
•    Needing to shake-up lagging teams
•    Overcoming resistance to changing processes
•    Challenging time versus quality decisions
•    Considering intuitive versus fact-based decision making

    What is interesting is that the author points out many times we avoid engaging in difficult conversation or "sugar coat" the bad news to "preserve the current relationship with stakeholders."  We don't realize that "the conversation IS the relationship." Possible benefits from the risk of using intelligent disobedience include, engaged project teams, loyal team members and a reputation for "telling it like it is."
    My question to my fellow project management professionals is, are you a risk taker?

Editor's Note: Members can learn more about intelligent disobedience by reading the Best of Congress feature in April 2006 issue of PM Network.


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The evolution from traditional web based communications to the Web 2.0 business models are difficult. Changes are required across many operations. Fundamental technology and best practices evolve continuously. The learning curve is perceived a major loss of productive time for many staff. The rewards might be viewed only as nice to have. My organization already has a long history of groundbreaking successes using federated search comparable to the acheivements of major commercial search engines. Making things tougher, user-driven content and open communication with the public are constrained by special rules for government agencies.

To what extent this risk can be taken?
Are there any tolerance limits... Especially when the bad news is to be given to a project sponsor or top management.
Any work study is done in this regard.

I like the idea of proposing unpopular options.particularly my concern is about the degree to which the Project Manager will/should be able to stand up to Senior Management on issues.If such act is not carefully done and in the appropriate context,it can lead to a rather uncomfortable situation to deal with for the Project manager.

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