How Do you Objectively Throw Someone Under the Bus?

One of the more unpleasant aspects of a project manager’s job is to report on and escalate deliverables that are late. Why? Because deliverables are attached to people, and this post is going under the assumption that these are good employees and resources that are doing the best they can.

Escalations on late (or soon to be late) deliverables take many forms, but generally include reporting up in the management hierarchy to somebody who can do something about the delays. Unfortunately, when someone’s name is attached to a particular deliverable, that person may consider it being ‘thrown under the bus’.

What can you do to remove this perception, still get the deliverable completed, and be able to work with the person the next day? The answer can be found in the Deliverables Radar Report.

The Deliverables Radar Report

This report is a rolling five-week view (the timescale can be adjusted to fit your particular industry) of key deliverables as they move through their project lifecycle. This five-week view is divided into three segments.

  • Deliverables that are 2 Weeks prior to coming Due: As soon as a key deliverable is 2 weeks away from being due, it shows up on the Daily Radar Report along with the name of the person responsible for delivery. It should also include some indication of whether it is on track for completion.
  • Deliverables that are Due This Week:  Any key deliverables that need to be finished this week along with the person responsible and some indication of whether it is on track for completion.
  • Deliverables that are 2+ Weeks Past Due: Any deliverables that have slipped into this condition are the ones that will need immediate focus to be removed from the list.

The Deliverable Radar Report is great to discuss in weekly PMO or project status meetings for a number of reasons. First, it is objective. There are no surprises that a deliverable is coming due and who is responsible. Next, it provides everyone visibility into deliverables that may be off-course and provides enough time to get them back on track. Finally, the organization’s attention is focused on past due activity that has been escalated and what will be necessary to clean these up.

An interesting side-effect of this report is that the “2 weeks+ past due” column begins to shrink week after week. Nobody wants their name attached to deliverables that are chronically late. While not the most pleasant part of a project manager’s job, this report provides fair warning and keeps escalations objective.

What are some of the things you have done to objectively escalate past due deliverables within your organization and still be able to work with everyone the next day?

UPDATE: For a FREE copy of the PDUs2Go Deliverables Radar Report Template, just log into your account on PDUs2Go.com and go to the Customer Rewards section to download your copy.


7 Responses to “How Do you Objectively Throw Someone Under the Bus?”

  1. Thomas says:

    I use something similar and think it is a great idea. It is heavily depending on the ‘culture’ of the organization and/or the wider environment. Here in Trinidad and Tobago the issue of embarrassing someone is not something that can be used easily. For one being late is just part of the semi-professional culture, and secondly the backlash in form of backstabbing and highly irrational destructive behavior is risky. Rationalization of the situation is not something far developed and the position is: you are hurting me, I am going to hurt you more no matter what!
    We have to start from scratch and develop professionalism, most likely with the help and input of expatriates and returning professionals.
    Just my two cents.

    Thomas

  2. pdus2go says:

    Thanks Thomas. Very good point about being sensitive to the culture in which you work.

  3. Iain Cruickshank says:

    Whereas I think the Deliverables Radar Report could be a good idea for a Project Manager to use when communicating with his/her team, if I was going to present it non-team members, I would remove the assigned names. It should not be presented to outsiders that an individual is “failing to deliver” … the message is that the team is “failing”. And the message should also include “and this is what we are going about it.”

    In my experience embarassing someone rarely works and can often lead to problems later on. If the PM feels a team member is not pulling his weight and is unwilling to step up, then the PM should remove the member from the team. But the team still is responsible for the work to be completed. Failing to deal with project issues is not a failure of the individual, it is a failure of the PM.

    If we not want the responsibility, we should never have become PM’s.

  4. Athif says:

    I like this idea. Something worth practicing :-).

  5. pdus2go says:

    Iain, I understand what you are saying when it comes to your own team. However, my experience over the years has been in heavily matrixed organizations where people and departments have different pressures, objectives and agendas they are working against. Sometimes, these conflict with the well-being of a project. While my intent is never to embarass someone, my purpose as a Project Manager is to ensure that the project gets done…despite the obstacles, and even sometimes opposition, that people may throw against the project. This was one way I found to accomplish that goal.

  6. Jason Burke says:

    What you’ve presented is certainly an important tool for any organization. Assuming that there are several projects and assignments any given week, how could a team succeed _without_ having some form of written plan? I have seen only limited cases where such a tool was not needed (and it really should have been used anyway) but once assignments and deadlines climb above three or four, individuals end up writing down their own notes – why not combine them?

    However, what you address here is the bigger issue of accountability – once the assignments have been made, whether verbal or written, how do they get done? More importantly, what do you do when they don’t?

    Unfortunately, your title pretty much sums up the tone of using the documented tasks as a “blame tool”. To me, “throwing someone under the bus” implies real damage, whether to a career or to compensation. Such consequences cannot simply be justified by absolving the manager and allowing one to say, “It’s on the list, it needs to be done.” There is more going on, and it is up to the manager and the individuals’ supervisors to address it as soon as delays are apparent – personally and professionally.

    One caveat: You mention unforeseen work items, which are an important aspect of any project. Surprises pop up every day that must be dealt with. If the team really is working to the point that there is no room for error, then the organization is really not set up to deal with “projects”. In civil and mining engineering, we know that even 100% plans are at best still conjecture about real geological conditions or past work. Failing to account for this by having some slack in scheduling or resource allocation is simply not accepting reality.

    In short, I completely agree that the written task list is vital to communicating to and allocating resources. But it should never be used as an “objectivity crutch” that allows PM’s and supervisors to avoid personal discussion and understanding of the root of the problem.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  7. Emkay says:

    Jennifer – Bang on!

    Lets face it – Project management certainly is not for the faint of heart.

    Don’t forget, you are always front of line when things don’t go so well, and when things do go well, of course it is your team who created the success. So why not take a proactive approach to guarantee success rather than trying to dodge bullets?

    All the tools you mention are a must have for PMs – how do you know what you/ team is working on if you don’t have a 10-20-30 day forward looking window.

    Why wait till something goes bad and then try to rectify it by hanging someone? Why not take a proactive approach and get a tight handle on things that are coming due? And if someone isn’t delivering, how can the PM afford to let the project suffer. When you have to Take a bold stand and fix the problem not the symptom :))

    I personally have a “Past Due” list tracked on a daily basis. Of course, focus is on any tasks/ deliverables that are connected tot he Critical Path.

    Also, yourself this question – if you have a team member who is consistently late – how are you as the PM going to manage your plan – do you just pad it based on your expert knowledge or would you just go out and buy a new pair of pant with a padded behind in preparation for the worst?

    For all of you who shrink at the thought of a public list – would you honestly ever recommend the offenders for your any of your organization’s Mission Critical Projects?

    Again – great article, hope to hear some really good success stories shortly.

    -em

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