20 PM NETWORK APRIL 2015 WWW.PMI.ORG
VOICES In the Trenches
Make Time for Ethics
Don’t let today’s rapid-fire project management environment kill your ethics instinct.
By Gwen K. Romack, PMP
PROJECT MANAGERS, like other professionals,
have seen their everyday working lives shift into
overdrive in recent years. Most are expected to
carry a smartphone, be accessible nearly 24/7 and
make decisions instantaneously. Gone are the days
of being able to ruminate on complex challenges
and slowly analyze the facts until you reach a decision. Taking time to consider if one of the hundreds
of micro-decisions you make every day drifts too
close to an ethical line has become a luxury most
project managers do not feel they have anymore.
And the less time we spend thinking about ethics,
the more our instinct to behave ethically weakens.
Many of us like to think we’d make the right call
on an ethical issue if it really counted. But the day-to-day micro-decisions do really count. Stakeholders notice these decisions, even if you think they
don’t. Whether you paint a rosy picture of a troubled project’s trajectory or cover for a colleague,
micro-decisions can slowly build a stellar reputation or be the thousand tiny cuts that destroy it.
Take the team member who notices you tweaked
the forecast due date to be closer to the actual one,
or the client who sees that the acceptance testing
protocol you used for the final report is not the one
you agreed to before testing began. A seed of doubt
is planted, and they begin to view all your promises
with a trace of suspicion. The client starts wonder-
ing if other deliverables will come in as discussed
and feels the need to micromanage. The team mem-
ber doesn’t quite believe you when you promise that
working hard on the project will pay off, and gradu-
ally turns his or her attention to other priorities.
Trust is broken. Small issues that could have been
solved if you had good relationships become big
problems that threaten to destroy the project.
Had you stopped to realize the ethical implications of altering that due date or switching the
testing protocol, you might have made a different
decision or taken a moment to explain it to the
stakeholders to avoid misperceptions.
Unfortunately, the duration and complexity of
most projects today means many ethically questionable decisions won’t be detected at the organizational level for years, if ever. On shorter, simpler
projects, feedback would have come sooner, and
we would have had the chance to constantly refine
our ethics instinct.
Why not use
for at least one
decision a week
to start training
yourself to ask