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The Truth Will Set You Free

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

James Baldwin

Everybody lies.

  • Our status is green.

  • We are on schedule.

  • We have more than enough budget.

  • We don't need any more resources.

  • Don't worry about the absence of a project plan or written specifications. This is an agile project.

  • The business requirements have been approved.

  • Stakeholders are aware because we distributed communications.

  • Our chosen vendor is the best.

  • Leadership is aligned (my personal favorite!).

We lie because the expectation is that we deliver (or we'll find someone who will . . . lie about being able to deliver). We lie because our corporate cultures expect us to think positively and optimistically or certainly not be seen as negative. We lie because we want to be perceived as competent and having it under control.

Here's the rub: Not everything is under our control.

Sh..stuff happens. Budgets sometimes are based upon wishes, not reality. We don't always have the right knowledge and experience internally. Stakeholders change their minds and change them again. Corporate decisions are often Fire-Fire-Fire instead of Ready-Aim-Fire. Leaders are human, often have imperfect information and struggle with competing priorities just like the rest of us.

Projects are complex, messy, and imperfect and that is normal and to be expected. Even if our plan did not account for it. We just have to see the complexity clearly in every moment of the project, so we can get the right people to the table to solve it.

For a change to be successful we need the unvarnished truth and we need it to be coupled with a lack of judgement. We cannot fix a problem if we refuse to see it and accept it. We also cannot get others engaged in solving it unless we suspend our desire to blame. Judgement and blame get in the way of problem-solving because they and the resulting fear of reprisal create defensiveness and perception management. In other words, blame creates more lies. And that works against project success because we need the people who are part of the problem engaged in solving it. We need the people who will be responsible for the solution engaged in creating it.

As James Baldwin suggests, we may not be able to change the inevitable challenges we face during complex change. We will be better equipped to create change success, however, when we see those challenges honestly, accept them and create an environment that gets others involved in solving them.

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