Vampires in popular culture range from Bela Lugosi’s campy Count Dracula, to the sparkly Edward Cullen, to Charlaine Harris’ True Blood vampires who seek peaceful (although sometimes violent) co-existence with humans, to the truly scary Nosferatu and Van Helsing's Prince of Darkness. Many different qualities and traits have been attributed to the undead, but there are some commonalities: vampires can fly, they avoid daylight, they suck unsuspecting humans dry of blood and energy, they create more vampires, and they can bend others to their will. Oh, and fangs.
Project managers need to be on the lookout for vampires, too. A project vampire can quickly derail progress with tactics that steal the life out of your team and scare them into inactivity. You may have heard the term energy vampire, which refers to appliances and electronics that consume energy in standby mode, even when not being used. Energy vampires waste money and resources. The same is true of project vampires. You may not be aware of them, but they are working behind the scenes to derail your project, and not just on Halloween.
Here are some project vampire indicators that should signal you to get the wooden stakes and garlic ready:
- Project resources are bled dry. When resources and employees are not used efficiently, not only can budget overruns occur, but resources may run out before a successful outcome is achieved. Ensuring a commitment to have necessary resources available and careful management of resources with good project management software can help avoid resource blood-letting.
- Taking flight, vampire-style. You have a room full of brilliant planners with different ideas and diverse goals. In the excitement of getting the project off the ground, things may start moving before the project has good definition. Your project will quickly be out of control and flying off in the wrong direction. Spend enough time at the front end, and don't mobilize until your team has a cohesive plan and understanding of the desired outcome.
- Avoiding daylight. When a project encounters difficulties, teams can get caught up in the blame game and pointing at reasons for failure. Even worse, problems are ignored and faults or mistakes are hidden. Your project falters as soon as daylight is shone on potential weaknesses because you haven't accounted for the possibility or owned up to the problem.
- The vampire bite creates vampire children. So do indecisive or vague customers. Trying to please a customer who moves project phases around, changes orders, and keeps altering expectations is like trying to manage dozens of brand-new baby vampires. They are all single-minded, hungry and ready to drag your project off into their distant lair. Managing customer expectations means setting firm goals and schedules and referring back to your outcome plan regularly when indecisiveness threatens.
- Bend to vampire will. This may actually be a vampire strategy good managers can mimic to their benefit. Weak leadership and a lack of clearly defined project objectives can kill project success when scope creep comes along. If multiple requests come in for changes and tweaks, each one demanding accommodation, the project manager can exert his Count Dracula force of will and yell: "Children of the night, shut up!" (Love at First Bite, 1979)
- The invisible vampire. Unforeseen occurrences can impact your outcomes and schedule in a big way. For example, if your product release date coincides with the debut of Edward and Bella's baby in the latest Twilight Saga sequel, you may have a problem generating interest. Perhaps the best way to protect your project and your team against the unexpected is to perform a good risk assessment. As good vampire boy scouts always say: be prepared.
Finally, a word about fangs. A number of practical vampire proponents have acknowledged that one of the drawbacks to vampire fangs is "fang thpeak." In other words, fangs interfere with clear speech. Lack of clear communication is perhaps the biggest project killer of them all.
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