Are Executives Derailing Your Project?

Your organization’s leadership team plays a vital role in project success. The executives are typically key sponsors of high-visibility initiatives and their participation in moving efforts from concept to reality is crucial. There are times, however, when you may discover that senior staff are standing in the way of progress rather than supporting it.


If your project is going astray, see if you recognize any of these common signs that your executives are derailing your efforts. By identifying where the leadership group may be creating a risky environment for your project, you’ll be in a better position to leverage some carefully targeted project management services and bring your initiative back on track.

Senior staff members add deliverables to your project after activities are underway, quickly putting progress behind schedule. These malleable project parameters result from a variety of causes. Executives may decide that market conditions or a new business collaboration justify an expansion of what the initiative was originally scoped to accomplish. In other cases, the leadership team realizes they overlooked or underestimated a business need and they want to add it to the project’s scope mid-stream. No matter the reason, your project will likely encounter significant time and resource conflicts if the list of items your team needs to tackle continues to grow.

Promised resource allocations are sometimes late or never materialize at all. PMs must often rely on one or more executives to approve staff—in-house, contract, or both—as well as funding. If allotments aren’t made available on time, it can leave the team in a critical bind. The leadership group may not see these requests as a priority, or it’s possible they’ve earmarked the same resources for other uses. Both scenarios can seriously impair your ability to reach key milestones.

Internal departments aren’t instructed to provide support to project team members. These directives typically come straight from the executive team, but if that doesn’t happen then divisional leaders aren’t likely to feel compelled on their own to contribute assistance to the effort. PMs could be left without the necessary support to negotiate contracts or purchase agreements, to recruit for key roles within the team, to secure regulatory permission to execute specific tasks, or even to deploy critical software or other technology tools needed for the project’s completion.

Similar problems arise if the executives aren’t vocal champions of the project. Other stakeholders, from collaborators to end users, might take their cue from the leadership group and effectively de-prioritize the initiative. It’s important that you have good participation from your stakeholder base and that becomes difficult if they aren’t committed to the project’s success.

Key issues are left undecided, or input on strategic issues isn’t forthcoming. If the leadership team doesn’t give PMs the right level of information and direction, obstacles can bring the project to a stop or the initiative may not ultimately deliver the expected value to the organization. A related challenge is when executives release much-needed data but the project group isn’t on the distribution list. A management team that isn’t properly involved in the project’s planning and execution can easily overlook the need to keep PMs informed.

Longer-term concerns such as developing the best workforce are also impacted when executives constantly shuffle priorities within the company’s portfolio of projects. It’s just a fact of life that what’s important today isn’t guaranteed to be important tomorrow. However, while it’s reasonable to expect some projects to move up or down the priority scale on occasion, if you’re seeing that kind of activity on a regular basis it’s likely to make your staffing strategies much more challenging.


PMAlliance, Inc offers project management consultingproject management training and projecportfolio management services.

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