Project Management: The Problem with Pleasers

Project teams want to deliver good results. They want to move their initiatives to a successful completion and provide stakeholders with the expected benefits. In short, PMs and others working in the project group want people to be happy with the final outcome. That’s an important attribute for any project professional, but there can be downsides when a desire to please executives, champions, stakeholders, and end users starts to take priority over following good project management practices.

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If your team seems to have trouble balancing their responsibilities to execute projects appropriately with keeping stakeholders happy, consider if you might have some pleasers in the group.

Pleasers will agree to unrealistic schedules and budgets.

The first problems often begin when pleasers don’t speak up early in the project planning process with concerns or questions. Sometimes it’s because they assume that any issues can be worked out before the timeline and funding levels are finalized and approved. In other cases, pleasers may be too optimistic—in their duration estimates, in their ability to secure any hoped-for cost savings after the project has gotten underway, and in the willingness of others to work overtime or do whatever it takes to turn an impossible project plan into a reality.

Pleasers will suffer under enormous workloads. 

Along with not calling attention to unsustainable schedules and task loads while the project details are still being hammered out, pleasers are known to take on more than they can handle once the project begins. It’s not uncommon for project team members to be borderline workaholics, but the issue with pleasers goes beyond simply working long hours. One strategy common among pleasers is to try to help out colleagues whose activities are in danger of falling behind schedule. Another is their tendency to volunteer for supporting roles, such as working through vendor payment glitches with the accounting department or shepherding a new hire through orientation. These tasks are often better suited to coordinators or administrative assistants, but when things are busy pleasers are usually the first to pile extra work onto their own plates.

Pleasers will do just about anything to avoid giving bad news.

Is a task running behind schedule? A pleaser will probably keep that information to themselves. Did a product in development just fail a mid-project QC test? Don’t expect to hear about it from a pleaser. Because pleasers want everyone to be happy, alerting the team or its stakeholders to problems isn’t something a pleaser is likely to tackle. Instead, they’ll typically try to fix problems on their own, hoping to find and implement a solution—and get the project back on track—before the project’s sponsors or champions discover anything is wrong. If it’s an obstacle they can’t overcome alone, they’re more likely to hunker down with a small, select group of project members to try to devise a fix on the sly, rather than bring the problem to the attention of the PM or other leaders.

In essence, pleasers never want to disappoint anyone.

The reality of project management, however, is that budgets are limited, stakeholders often start out with unrealistic expectations, and deadlines need to be met. There will inevitably be disagreement and compromise along the way. If your pleasers continuously undercut the team, you need to identify where the issues exist and apply a proven project management methodology to close the gaps. Through the use of robust communication, stringent project controls, the development of highly accurate task duration estimates, and skilled risk assessment and management protocols, you’ll help your pleasers maintain good customer satisfaction without sacrificing project success in the process.


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