3 things project managers can learn from the Gulf oil spill

by Ty Kiisel, @task - I'm not planning on starting an environmental rant on the pros and cons of deep offshore drilling. I'll leave that for another forum. But I will share this observation: As bad as the spill looks on the surface, there's even more underneath.

It is also a great example of how a lot of project problems get handled.

Often the most dangerous problems are those left (intentionally or unintentionally) under the surface, out of sight. I'm no expert on oil spills, but here are a few suggestions for project-related problems:

1. Foster an organizational willingness to take the bitter with the sweet. Sometimes the tendency is to shoot the bearer of bad news. Granted, it might not be what you want to hear, but it may be that you need to hear it. Sometimes the difference between an inconvenience and a full-on disaster is a matter of timing. Business leaders need accurate information to make the best decisions.

2. Make honesty the best policy. Sometimes when problems crop up, it's easy to soft-pedal the situation, put a good spin on it, or intentionally underestimate the potential damage when talking to the boss. It might make you feel better for the time being, but that will only last until the boss finds out the truth -- which he or she will. Resist the urge. It hasn't been a good idea for BP and it won't be for you.

3. Realize that organizations can only address the problems they can see. Problems that are hidden deep under the surface won't get addressed until they bubble up and make everything stink. By then, they will more than likely be bigger, more difficult to address, or worse -- the death knell for the project.

There are some project mangers that have software solutions that provide alerts and other tools to help identify potential problems early, but for any work management solution to be effective there needs to be an established culture of identifying, isolating, and dealing with problems early -- or the tendency will be to keep problems hidden and lingering under the surface.

How does your organizations deal with problems? Share some of your successful problem-solving best practices.

Ty Kiisel writes about project management issues and best practices for @task Project Management Software. Follow Ty on Twitter: @tykiisel

For more project management tips, see:

Project management: Scrapping a doomed project

The essential project management reading list

Project Management: 4 Questions To Ask Before Starting Any Project

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