“It is definitely not a witch hunt”, how true is it?

“It is definitely not a witch hunt”, how true is it?

Posted on April 8, 2015


“It is definitely not a witch hunt” was one of the oft-repeated words by a PMO when the PMO tried to implement the so-called “health review meetings”. The original purpose of these health review meetings was to get help/guidance/direction from the executive sponsors at a portfolio level.  To get buy-in from project managers, these meetings were advertised as “no witch hunt” health reviews.

Before I get into the specifics of how these meetings turned out, let me first give out the definition of a witch-hunt. defines witch hunt as follows

an intensive effort to discover and expose disloyalty, subversion,dishonesty, or the like, usually based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence.

Since the purpose of what these health reviews were and what they should not become was explained initially, the first few meetings were civil. Also, for the first few meetings the project managers were given the freedom to present the information that helped their projects get out of red. However, these presentations showed some departments in bad light and in many cases, the PMO was culpable too for not having the right tracking tools, right methodology etc.,

That’s when these meetings started to become political and took an ugly turn. To control the discussions, the PMO made a few changes. The first change was to identify, 3-4 weeks in advance, which projects will be presented in these meetings. The second change was to use these 3-4 weeks to review/update the presentations internally with the project managers so that the PMO was not shown in a bad light.

Now, the whole process became a project manager’s worst nightmare. First of all, the project was itself in red and needed lot of attention to get things under control. On top of that, there was a considerable amount of time spent to make sure the health review presentations were politically correct. That was not an easy job to do because of the integrity of some of the financial reporting tools. No wonder the project managers started to feel like these meetings were a drain of their time with not much help coming in terms of fixing the issues at hand.

The tactics of the PMO could not be hidden for a long time as the sponsors were smart 'First of all, let me congratulate everyone on the swell turnout and the really terrific job you all did on such short notice.'enough to see through the misrepresentation or dilution of facts. As you can imagine, the project managers were caught between a rock and a hard place. Instead of focussing on the issues at hand, the project managers had to explain the inconsistencies within their presentations. Within a few months, these meetings became – what is the phrase that I am searching for – yes, witch hunts.

This is another example of a good idea executed poorly. A few things done differently , as shown below, could have made this a huge success.

  1. Always be loyal to the project success. Assuming that the project delivery is aligned with the strategic initiatives of the company, staying loyal to the project rather than to your department is the right thing to do in almost all scenarios.
  2. Health reviews are not just sickness reviews. Rather than go through troubled projects only, throw in a few healthy projects that have stayed in green despite complexity of solutions, and major issues. Maybe the PM and the teams have figured out how to make things work and other PMs with the troubled projects may learn from that.
  3. Be prepared for some major organizational issues to show up. Eventually the root causes that have caused projects to fail will show up and it is a good thing. Knowing the problem is first step to solving the problem and so be prepared to accept these so that you can focus on fixing them.
  4. Focus on a benefit more than avoidance of a bad thing. Saying “no witch hunt” was like saying, “no hitting the wall” for NASCAR drivers since these drivers are trained not to look at the wall otherwise they will eventually run into it. 

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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