6 Project Management Taboos You Should Break

A taboo is an activity that is forbidden or sacred based on religious beliefs or morals. Breaking a taboo is extremely objectionable in society as a whole. We have isolated six project management taboos that are common in PM discussions.

The upside of understanding and acting on these most common project management taboos is tremendous. Not only will your project success rate increase, you’ll also improve satisfaction among internal customers.

1. ‘The customer is always right’ is wrong

Project sponsor is a role in project management, usually the senior member of the project board and often the chair. The project sponsor will often be a senior executive in a corporation who is responsible to the business for the success of the project.

However, project sponsors are people, and they can be wrong. This taboo prevents project managers from openly examining the actions of senior individuals in power. In its more stringent form, this taboo can even convert “lessons learned” activities into simple exercises in fawning praise for the vision of our leaders. When we cannot question the actions of the powerful, the organisation can have difficulty finding its way out of trouble. This problem is most severe when the actions (or failure to act) of a Executive sponsor in power is the issue.

Ignoring a Problem Is, Enabling the Problem

2. ‘Ignore your problems and they will go away‘ 

The perfect employee. The perfect manager. The perfect workplace. Wouldn’t it be nice if that existed? When it comes to managing people, one of the best things we can do is to realise that nothing will ever be perfect. There will always be problems. It’s how we deal with them that matters the most, so do not ignore them, because they won’t miraculously go away. The problem only gets worse, frustration levels increase, productivity suffers and complacency will set in. They fester the longer you ignore them and ultimately compound the cost of the project.

You aren’t fooling anyone, people know when there is a problem! Occasionally things can get better by themselves, however, the majority of the time this doesn’t happen.

If you do something wrong, it’s about how well you fix it,” says GlassHouse Technologies’ Scannell. “Most people batten down the hatches and close up shop. Understanding when you’re starting to fail and quickly being able to engage as many stakeholders as possible to fix it is critical.”

Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers – Nice to Have or Necessity

3. Showing emotion is a sign of weakness

If only it were just about defining scope, creating a project plan and tracking costs.

Project Management obviously encompasses all those things, but it’s also about relationship development, team building, influencing, collaborating, and negotiating often in a very complex environments.

In most workplace environments project managers have difficulty showing feelings. Project managers cannot even discuss them. It’s a pity — feelings are part of being human. When we can discuss feelings, we can manage them, and we can use them as indicators of morale, future performance, or motivation. This project management taboo can limit the effectiveness of project retrospectives. In projects, strong feelings are common. They play an important role in determining project performance. Yet feelings are rarely discussed in project retrospectives, and this omission can prevent project managers from truly understanding the evolution of the projects they are supposedly managing and examining. However, whatever form a project takes there will always be people involved and where there are people there are emotions.Emotions influence people’s actions, their behaviours and their responses to the emotions of others. So welcome to the world of ‘emotional intelligence’.

The concept of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was first popularised by Daniel Goleman in 1995 with his book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ.”

Just Jump Through the Hoops, Don’t Try to Fix the World

4. Project Managers should play by the rules

Most organisations have processes that nearly everyone understands are outdated and counterproductive, however, when project managers dismiss these processes, neglect to model their costs to organisations, the outdated processes are then very difficult to change.

Indeed, the taboo is part of the cultural infrastructure that enables these dysfunctional processes to persist. If project managers discuss them openly, they might find that upgrading them could provide significant payback.

Keep Complaining! It’s Good for You!

5. Keep complaining! It’s good for you!

We’ve all know that rush of relief you feel as soon as you wrap up a major rant. This is the national art and sport of the UK. However, complaining is viral misery. Back in 2006, an American pastor named Will Bowen launched a campaign he called “A Complaint Free World”. Drawing on the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, Alessandri pushes back against the assumption that complaining is only worthwhile if it gets concrete results; there’s no point in it, the received wisdom goes, if what you’re bemoaning is beyond your control.

Peace Is Not Absence of Conflict, It Is the Ability to Handle Conflict by Peaceful Means

6. You must take sides in a political conflict

Just keep neutral. It is possible to be respectful to (and respected by) your colleagues by staying neutral. Politics are as old as civilisation and have continued to be a source of fascination since Machiavelli wrote The Prince, a treatise on how to acquire and retain power, in the 16th century.

There are a lot more project management taboos that aren’t included listed here. We’re interested in your thoughts and suggestions?