Use Context To Save The Project: Learn From NSA Missteps

The controversy surrounding the NSA has introduced a situation that we haven’t faced before, nationally, but there are similar situations and potential remedies that project managers can apply in day-to-day project management. When corporate warfare dips into a PM’s project he has two options: sit in silence or act to contain the damage. But how?

Presentation Day

Corporate politics mow across a young PMO like Sherman through Atlanta. Knowing the PMO’s job is to present to the executives at a regular rate, it is also regular for executives to stop presentations and battle over details or even control of projects on the slide deck. A presenter has so much time to use their dwindling control and relevance to make an impact that will keep the presentation on track and save projects from upheaval. It is vital that the PMO presenter take that situation back. Repeat occurrences will make the PMO irrelevant and it will become a political tool and disappear.

The same situation can take place even more often in a smaller scale during design, status, and even retrospective meetings. An irate participant can in a moment blast the team with his or her own version of history to support a drive to divert the project to suit an emotional or personal agenda. Unchecked, the louder voice will win.

And the NSA is involved how?

How is this like the current NSA situation and what can we learn? Not to recap the string of events revealed by Edward Snowden(I’ll direct you to Bob Greenwald’s work), there is enormous distrust of the United States and the tech industry with suspicions surrounding compromises by both the NSA and the corporate tech giants themselves. The fallout has reached a peak when average people using their computers are worried about who is stealing information from them. At the same time, the tech industry is the most lucrative and maybe the most vulnerable in our country’s history in terms of shear dollars and points of contact. This is that moment when action can be taken before—not control of a project—the future of this economy and the place the USA has in the world tech industry can be reinvented or leveled.

Right now, the action needed is the immediate introduction of context. A signal is needed from the Googles and Facebooks and Amazons that yes or no we are or are not being unethical with your prized data. Confirmation is sought by consumers that tech giants will become the guardians of citizens during the digital age. The vacuum over the privacy torchbearer’s seat is painfully obvious, needing to be filled now. A shout from Washington, with apologies to the President, that steps X, Y, and Z will be taken never again treating an innocent American as a criminal during data collection. (Note that I am sidestepping the silliness of word parsing, reliance on terms of conditions, or the optional disregard the citizen is today suffering)

Whatever, how do I use that in my day-to-day?

That action of stepping in with context can rescue the project meeting. When the voices are raised, the PM steps up and says “Hey, I’m the de facto historian. This issue isn’t germane to the agenda/The plan is A, B, and C. We will revisit with information from emails/planning/prioritization.” And just like that the situation is no more.

Likewise, in the PMO presentation, the presenter is the one holding the facts.  While being respectful, the PM has to interrupt and control the conversation. If he doesn’t then he will never have respect in future presentations or decisions. The PM must then correct incorrect observations and misinformation in the next breath. Use context to sweep away the ammunition of the disruption.

Couldn’t I just wait and see what happens?

Every bad decision is a result of bad planning or inaction. Furethermore, any context the PM provides—without fail—must be on message. Free of technobabble and corporate speak. No room for parsing. Risk pausing, look stupid, get that words right—and for the love of God, make sure that whatever is said is completely, irrevocably accurate and non-manipulative.

Repeat what works, avoid someone else’s missteps.

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