Gary Heerkens’s March PM Network column “Imposed Deadline Syndrome” (I love that title)!

For most of the past several years, Gary Heerkens’s The Business of Projects column usually has been the best regular feature of PMI’s PM Network monthly magazine. Even on the rare occasion that I disagree with something he’s written, I found what he’s said to be well framed and thought-provoking. We both approach projects from the point of view of their business value, and so it is perhaps no surprise that we tend to see many things similarly.

His column on page 29 of the new March issue of PM Network has just become available on-line to PMI members. Titled “Imposed Deadline Syndrome,” it addresses a topic I have found myself thinking a lot about lately: the fact that a significant portion of corporate projects are being damaged by the failings of senior management. The article states that “Many executives… tell the project manager what the best solution is, when the project is to be completed and how much to spend.” It then goes on to discuss the negative impacts of this approach, from the perspectives both of reduced business value and human cost of a team “trying to achieve the unachievable.” I urge all project managers to read the article, and, if possible, to pass it along to the senior managers in your organization.

I read the article this morning just as I was thinking that my next blog would be about the failure of senior management to comprehend what project management, and specifically project sponsorship, is all about. That will indeed be the topic of an article I’ll publish here later this week. But I also want to make the observation that it is no accident that Gary and I are focusing on this subject – it’s been in the wind. I think that a lot of project management people have found their thoughts turning to this topic of late. What are we going to do about it? That’s the next point of discussion.

And it is not at all surprising to me that Gary’s column would kick it all off in such an interesting fashion.

Fraternally in project management,

Steve the Bajan

4 thoughts on “Gary Heerkens’s March PM Network column “Imposed Deadline Syndrome” (I love that title)!

  1. Does it take a whole column to state the obvious? These senior managers have adopted the management style favoured by Herman Goering when the German army was cut off at Stalingrad, and he declared that the army would be supplied by air. It was known that the army needed 350 tonnes of supplies every day but the Lufwaffe only had enough aircraft to supply 70 tonnes. The gap in the numbers between what was imposed and what was possible must have caused a fair bit of stress for the project team on that job.


    • Hi, Trevor! Being a military history buff, I of course love your Stalingrad airlift analogy — very apt! However, I think you are being a little too critical of Gary Heerkens’s article. Perhaps it “states the obvious” — but this is something that, while known by many of us in the profession, was not being talked about much prior to the past couple of years. The fact that Heerkens sees fit to call it out in his regular column in a magazine like PM Network is, IMO, a very good sign. Maybe the discussion will even advance to the point where we can actually consider improving things…

      Fraternally in project management,

      Steve the Bajan


  2. Trevor,

    Do you feel brave enough to tell senior management to their faces that they are making serious errors?

    I’m sure there are quite a few line managers (PMs and other) who wish they could directly call out the obvious errors but they’d rather keep their paycheck than file for unemployment benefits — and who can blame them?




    • Tim, your point is well taken.

      A few years ago while I was teaching at a US aerospace contractor, an attendee said: “Steve, these are great ideas. but the trouble is, you’re teaching them to the master sergeants. You need to be teaching them to the colonels and generals who can build processes and procedures based on them.”

      I think that’s exactly right, and that conversation had much to do with my writing my new book Managing Projects as Investments in a way that even busy senior managers might read it.

      One can teach infantrymen all about tactical techniques — but if senior management insists, Somme-style, on lining them up and attacking machine guns across open terrain, nothing the grunts do will help much.

      Fraternally in project management,

      Steve the Bajan


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