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While there are many cases where we might have to use our powers of influence and persuasion to sell stakeholders on supporting what we feel is the right thing, I thought I’d share three specific examples which might be a much harder sell than usual.

While Fred Brooks wrote that “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later” in his book, The Mythical Man-Month, in most cases this applies to any industry or domain.

Does it always hold true? Not if the project just got started and there’s sufficient time before a key milestone to make up for the onboarding costs of adding team members. It also won’t apply if your project was understaffed from beginning and by adding team members you will bring staffing up to an optimal level.

But in many cases, the recognition that a project is critically late and sufficient motivation to take action occurs late enough in the life of the project that the Law does apply.

But try convincing a customer or sponsor that throwing more people at the problem isn’t the right thing to do? It is, after all, the second easiest way for senior stakeholders to demonstrate that they are doing “something” to help out (the first being to replace the project manager whether or not they were responsible for the delays!). Reducing scope might be a much safer approach, but if the choice is to give something up or add team members to get what they had originally asked for, stakeholders are likely to push for the latter.

Which leads to my second example – project sunk costs. If I had received a dollar for every time I heard a senior stakeholder exclaim “Well we’ve spent $X so far on the project, so it doesn’t make sense to pull the plug now”, I would be a rich man. I’ve even run across some project finance analysts who are well trained in the correct treatment of sunk costs to be guilty of this sin.

As a project manager, your responsibility is not to deliver the project, damn the consequences. It is to increase the odds that the expected business outcomes can be achieved through your project’s delivery and if this is no longer possible, to convince decision-makers that the best action they take might be to cancel the project to avoid throwing further good money after bad.

Finally, let’s consider changes. When a change is identified, the usual expectation is to request our team members to analyze it so that decision makers can decide whether to accept it or not.

But what happens when the project is late and you’d like your team members to remain focused on delivering the approved scope? In such cases, it might make more sense to have someone (you, the sponsor or customer) filter all change requests before the team even looks at them to ensure that only “must do” changes get analyzed.

But if your stakeholders have become accustomed to the normal approach, this might be a hard sell.

Good judgment is a key trait for project managers. But merely possessing good judgment is useless unless we are able to convince others of the merit of what we are proposing so that they accept our recommendations. And when projects are in trouble, this might get harder than usual.

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