I need advice on how to capture cultural or behavioral risks in an organization (Cost, Duration, Scope) to a project in a fashion that can quantify and express those risks and mitigation options without burning political capital or alienating project members or stakeholders.


My brain distills every problem into a heuristic equation that I can mentally express as an algebraic function, where inputs, peoples, risks, data, etc. are variables, organizational priorities are coefficients, and everything distills into a series of RCAs and data points that either produce a logical conclusion/decision which I can comfortably justify, or present a series of choices for my customer to make.

I consider that a strength. I keep immaculate notes, can track many simultaneous activities across a project, and can seamlessly zoom in and out from strategic to operational to tactical roles; its part of why I've had a successful PM career. I made great money, accolades for high profile billion dollar projects, and ultimately retired early because...at the end of the day, the purpose of work is to facilitate a livelihood, and if you are financially secure and don't need work to sustain a livelihood, you don't need to work. I came out of retirement because fate conspired to present me the perfect opportunity - a literal, "I would not have come out of retirement for ANYTHING ELSE" moment.

I also have weaknesses, which is why I need help now. I report blunt data in what I believe is a non-biased manner. That data may be painful. It may expose, embarrass, or shame people, and I am poor at tact - to me, these are problems that need to be identified clearly before they can be addressed and corrected. Throughout my career, my biggest professional development shortcoming has been that I take great care of my project staff and core teams, while demonstrating zero interest in anyone who is not contributing to my projects. I focus on selfish goals, and screw the rest of everyone.

This isn't to say that I am not a people person; I am amicable and friendly, but also intense, focused, and driven, and I tend to forget that the person I am about to engage in project related conversation may need to switch mental gears to ramp into a conversation with me because I forget that not everyone is thinking about what I am thinking about, when I am thinking about it.

I left one of the Fortune 10 after so many years with peers with similar professional experiences, where project metrics are based on efficiency, forecasts, lead times, project cost accounting, and customer focus. The company I joined is a comparatively small company with a wildly different set of values (patience, consensus, employee gratification, and...I'm not sure what else yet. I'm ramping up to speed in this new organization that I came out of retirement to join. I am gathering data and processing inputs to create variables with my figurative mouth to the firehouse and discovering that key members of my non-dedicated project team have the attitude, "I am going to do the minimum required to get by and not get fired, and make it to retirement, then this won't be my problem."

This appears to be a pervasive attitude in my organization, where advancement - up to and including its C-suite staff - is based on tenure instead of merit, and the single most important qualification to be employed there is to be related to an existing employee.

Were I still in my prior role at my prior company, I could quantify this risk to a project's cost, duration, or scope thus:

Problem Statement

Employees who are not dedicated project assets are in irreplaceable project roles who express the attitude that they will do the minimum required to not get fired until they can retire constitute a risk to this project's ability to be completed on time, within budget, and to scope for lack of organizational support.

Risk Response:

  • Avoidance: We can not do this project.

  • Transference: We can pay a third party(s) to complete the work to transfer risk to project cost, time, or scope creep.

  • Mitigation: We can remediate, discipline, counsel, or replace the personnel, either with substitute employees who may fill the same role, or with new employees. Or we can dedicate resources to ensure project success.

  • Acceptance: We can accept this cultural status quo and the resultant delays, and the cost impact that these delays will have.

In my prior role at a prior company, I had tools to use to guide behavior to facilitate peer leadership - carrots, sticks, peer pressure, a host of tools. In my new company, our organization pretty expressly disallows rewarding employees (who are all paid exorbitantly well), punishing employees (because company culture forbids it), or treating anyone differently than anyone else.

I cannot present this data as is to my company leadership, who are responsible for tolerating and perpetuating this behavior - the nepotism for example is surreal. All four of these options as presented are non-viable. My company's likely course is "Acceptance" because they are cash-flush, and have traditionally accepted these risks, although they remain undocumented dirty laundry.

At the same time, I cannot professionally or ethically be in a situation where in a year, I am asking for foreseen but unforecasted million dollar change orders to pay a vendor more money because my company failed to fulfill a contractual obligation with our own delays.

I don't know how to proceed, and would welcome any advice you all can give.

  • Thanks for sharing, really interesting. Despite all the provided information, unfortunately I don't get why you see this as a "perfect opportunity". Either way, if at all, why not take it as an opportunity to work with the people, and avoid presenting all the metrics. There must be someone available who you can ask for an assessment of your available resources to share thoughts / perfoemance expectations, no? – loom with a crew Dec 28 '18 at 10:49
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    It is a perfect opportunity because it is for an individual I wanted to work for/with, in a cushy job because the company doesn't use evaluatory metrics of any sort, pay and benefits are beyond reasonable expectations, and it is around the corner from where I retired to, so there is no commute. – Shelix Dec 28 '18 at 12:14

I don't believe finding some way of expressing the risks you see in a quantitative manner would resonate with the company culture you joined. Perhaps you should find an ally there who can rewrite your problem statement using the language that would be most tolerated there. I would also argue, however, that the company risk you see in their current set of employees is exacerbated by the risk you bring to the company by way of fit. It sounds like they have tolerated, or even nurtured, the first risk and they are now faced with you. Seems like an easy choice in terms of which to mitigate.

Seems like if you really want to be there, you should find a way to fit in there. Plan your projects understanding the level of effort your non dedicated project staff are willing to provide. Build enormous contingencies in your baseline.

I am in a very similar situation as you describe. My current firm's culture is much different than where I was raised. I spend half my time scratching my head wondering how someone said what they just said. My job is to figure out how to slowly evolve them but I quickly realized I needed, too, to evolve my thinking, my approach, to fit into this 50-year-old organization.

  • Thanks for the thoughts David. I intend to try fitting in. These cultural behaviors are things that "everyone" here says are bad, but "that's just the way we do it." To me, that's a problem statement being presented, especially since the scope of my project, its cost, and its duration are already identified and approved. I foresee need for change orders to scope and duration - which my business doesn't want - because of these attitudes. – Shelix Dec 29 '18 at 12:18

Fascinating, but you're working on gut feelings, at least that's how your story reads.

What you need is facts. Risk management is not about I think the contractor will screw us, but about concrete information. E.g.:

  • The contractor does not have the necessary skills
  • The contractor's estimate does not include inevitable changes that will cost $xxx.xx
    • These are the inevitable changes:
    • a, with a cost of $xxx and will cause a delay of n days
    • b, with a cost of $xxx and will cause a delay of n days
    • etc.

You could use historical data to buffer your claims, but unless you can create a fact sheet instead of a management horror story, you're not going to get anywhere and you're not doing your job.

It doesn't matter who does the job, but rather, that it's done properly, on schedule and in budget. There's no need to fret about the fact that a project is being outsourced that could be done (better, in your opinion) in-house. That's not the important part, nor the part you can change, as you yourself said.

So concentrate on getting the project set-up for success; management usually like that concept.

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