Carrying the Load by Caring Too Much

Keep project stakeholders and sponsors as committed to the project as your project team.

There is a box of stuff in my garage, left by a friend who had moved in to house sit when I was spending most of my time “on the road.” It was several boxes and a large trunk. When I discovered them I attempted to get in touch – email, text, voicemail. No response. The items went back into a nook in the garage until I came across them again, repeating the process. This went on for years.

Eventually I donated the trunk and opened the boxes. Much of the contents were basically clutter. Things you’d throw into a box and mark “Misc Stuff”. Items I could comfortably make a decision to discard. Then I found a few items that could only be mementos. Trinkets symbolizing office jokes; pieces of inexpensive jewelry that held a story and a keepsake box given to her by her mother. Knowing what she shared with her mom, and given that her mother had passed, this simple wooden box would have significance. Once again, text, email, voice messages. No response. My last attempt was over a year ago, clear that she would not be answering, I gave up.

Yet, if you wander into my garage, you will find the box. It contains literally nothing ofCaring value to me, only something that someone else once cared about. Over time I have moved it from spot to spot. Taping up its edges and corners to maintain its integrity. Protecting it from the things that stack up in garages. Guarding it from threat of flood, pest or varmint. Because I now care more about its contents then its owner does, the responsibility and burden for this morsel of someone else’s history is now mine to bear. What is worse… KNOWING I care more than its owner does.

Therein lays a problem I often see on projects (and sometimes, as a coach, in life). Someone, Bob, identifies an issue or problem or need that is important to him. Something he cares deeply about, keeping him up at night. It has so much meaning Bob brings it up to everyone, analyzes it and pitches it to leaders to get resources necessary to address it. People delve into it and addressing it becomes a “Project.” It’s a big initiative with a positive impact. He builds a team for his project, kicks it off with a ton of enthusiasm. These people are as pumped up as he is and off they go. They are going to Fix That Issue!

Then suddenly Bob is less and less visible and accessible to the team. It’s harder to get his time and attention. Critical decisions have to wait for periodic meetings, which Bob usually attends, but sometimes not. He’s not as focused as when he fought to get the project going. He has one eye on the clock and one eye on his phone – or worse – his laptop. His project team is “filling in” on things that were once clearly his area of responsibility.

Bob, and others like him, find themselves as Sponsors, Business Owners, or Champions for the projects they advocated but forget to allocate time for those roles. They don’t steer the projects with the passion and verve they had when they got it approved and launched. Ideally you want the project team to share that passion not take it over. They may be committed to the work but Bob has to remain committed to the cause – his cause.

Projects lose some of their foundational strength when their Bob disappears. Plus that crucial role gets thrust upon other team members who already have a full plate of responsibilities. The still greater danger is when he is no longer invested the purpose, quality and usability of the solution is guided solely by the original planning documents. Whoops, did Bob get those completed correctly before he launched this initiative? Because without those, this project team, no matter how much they care and give to this effort, are going to struggle.

The bottom line: Caring about a project trickles downward and outward. It starts with the Bobs and spreads to the project teams and stakeholders. When I begin working with a project the first thing I look for, regardless of the phase it’s in, is the participation of project originator. If this person is no longer passionately engaged getting any other stakeholder fully committed will be a challenge. Projects lacking endorsement and active involvement by its stakeholders are in for a much tougher implementation and are at a greater risk for failure. No amount of commitment, drive and care from the project team is enough.

So ask yourself, who cares the most about your current projects and goals?


Have you given responsibility for your goals to someone else?  Something to reflect on at www.MeetMaple.com.

Originally published on September 20, 2011

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