There are times when a little grumpiness does no harm and being “politically correct” is anything but correct, like in the situation I want to talk to you about today.

A potential client invited me to a meeting about “how we can make this project work” and I assumed, from this statement, that we will talk about a project rescue initiative, quite fashionable and in high demand lately.

The meeting was with a decision-making trio and, actually, their project was a transformation initiative they’ve had been struggling with for more than a year and it still wasn’t working. Ok… I quickly adapted to the new topic, I talked about different approaches, how we can do things, what we need to put in place to get different results. That’s why I was there, right?

And now comes the climax: “you know… what you’re proposing seems a bit complicated, we just need someone to keep a list of tasks and badger people to do their job“. This time I wasn’t able to readjust as quickly, because:


If you end up saying something like that, it’s crystal clear to me you have no idea what your initiative is actually about. And that’s why you don’t deliver results although you’ve been working on it for so long.


You “just stick to tasks” in small projects. To deliver a transformation initiative you need to support and help people do their work and add many other things to the mix. We aren’t herding sheep here!

So, I had a big problem! How do I continue the conversation? How can I convey information aligned with my professional ethic, without them perceiving me as arrogant or even rude?

In the end, I chose to say that, based on their current approach, I don’t think my team and I are the right partners for them. That I’m not able to guarantee the success of their project.

I remembered, on this occasion, a key concept I learned in the first PMI course I ever took: professional responsibility.

In a first aid course you learn from the start that, if a victim’s ear is bleeding, you don’t put a tourniquet around his neck. Well, it’s the same when it comes to approaches to working in projects: you have to know from the start what’s a definite NO-NO. Don’t close your eyes to it.

If you have an unrealistic deadline, don’t say yes just to please the boss. Call things by their name, even if you risk losing a client.

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