Is Your Project Manager Traffic Light Broken?

I was stuck in traffic the other day and going nowhere fast. Each time the light would turn green, there would only be about five or six cars that would make it through the light. Then the light would turn red again. This pattern repeated itself time and time again with only five to six cars making it through the light before it turned red. Traffic was at a standstill. I eventually moved up far enough to see the reason why. There was a police officer standing underneath that light up ahead that was directing traffic. There wasn’t an accident. The electricity was still running. There were no breakdowns of a vehicle or car anywhere that would necessitate a traffic officer being under that light.

The only breakdown I could see was that the system that was in place to regulate and guide traffic, the traffic light, was broken. The light wasn’t broken, but the system was broken.

The traffic light was there to direct traffic, but it wasn’t. The police officer was directing the traffic. Perhaps there were circumstances with the traffic that changed, or the volume of traffic increased, or the traffic pattern had shifted over time. Whatever the case,  it necessitated this officer being on this corner to get traffic through the intersection. So we had the new system, the police officer, working right underneath the old system, the traffic light, which was turning red, yellow, and green with him standing underneath it. Very broken. The solution needed to be that the road was widened, or a different traffic pattern created, or having longer cycles through the light in order to remedy the situation.

Does this occur on your projects? Do you have a system in place that perhaps worked for some time, and then you’ve put another system on top of a broken system in order to make it work? For example, maybe you had a Risk Identification and Mitigation strategy that was in place, and you had a process for handling and mitigating risks. Circumstances changed and you found that people no longer came to you, but you had to go to them in order to obtain those risks and mitigations. This was a breakdown in the process. You ended up with a process on top of a process.

You need to realize that this can happen in many facets of project management. You need to look at each one of these activities and make sure that they are working optimally and if not, don’t do double work. Fix it so it does work. The bottom line is: Don’t have a Police Officer Direct Traffic under Traffic lights on any of your  projects.


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