project management is all about maintaining a balance

a good equilibrium is required between many items

  • meeting the project objectives and keeping up the motivation of the team
  • listening to feedback while having a strong discipline of execution
  • matching sponsors desires to ground realities
  • risk-taking and securing the project
  • paying attention to details while keeping a global view
  • persevering and still demonstrating flexibility

permanent but divergent pressures

It is difficult to him (her) to find the happy balance between the necessary realization of the project's objectives and the motivation of his (her) team. Indeed, listening to team members is important and necessary but it also has to come with a firm discipline in the execution of tasks and respecting the milestones of the project.

So, it is necessary to discuss, listen and explain (again and again) and, at the same time, to keep the pressure to achieve the expected results. The successful passage of milestones, the production of intermediate/partial deliverables, the sharing of positive feedback from the steering committee are as many opportunities to be used and emphasized to motivate the team and celebrate these positive steps.

We often walk a tightrope between the satisfaction of the desires of our customers and our understanding (and that of our teams) of what is feasible or not. The compromises are numerous during a big project to find the fine balance between desire and reality.

risks tolerance and approach

Additionally, I noticed that organizations have different levels of tolerance to risks in general and towards some in particular (environmental, legal, safety). Naturally, this is going to influence the approach towards risk management and steer us towards solutions (either of avoidance, mitigation plans, insurances or transferring of responsibility when feasible). And in each case, we will need to adapt the risk response plan to the impact and the probability that the risk could materialize.

A concrete example was reported to me by the project manager of the construction of the rail cabs in two big cities in France. This project manager explained that he had adopted diametrically opposed approaches in the communication and realization of these two undertakings.

In one of the cities, the main sponsor (the city mayor) was extremely resolute to go fast. His reasoning was that regardless the dialogue and communication that would take place, the construction of the rail cab was going to be painful for local residents and storekeepers. Thus, he’d better go fast and get over this difficult stage as quickly as possible.

In another city, the sponsor was persuaded that dialogue was imperative, that it was necessary to make/take time for discussion, to then respond to these remarks… As any experienced PM would expect, the second project took 4 or 5 times longer than the first one. But, should it be considered a failure? Maybe not for the city in question, but the mayor of the second city is no longer in position to appreciate the outcomes and cash the benefits from it.

helicopter view with zooming capabilities

Also, it will be necessary to pay very high attention to details while keeping a little distance to keep your global view of the project and its final objectives. And, it’s not always easy to raise our eyes above your desks when the daily tasks keeps us busy.

perseverant versus stupid

And to complete this discussion about the necessity to maintain a balance, I would mention a point which I find particularly difficult to manage: perseverance.

Perseverance is very certainly one of the major qualities requested of the project manager. He has an objective to achieve and has to try hard to eliminate any obstacle preventing him from delivering on time and on budget. Nevertheless, things change all the time around us and in the projects in particular. So, change management requires rigor and also flexibility to avoid extremism and manage to deliver the best product or service possible to the customers.

So, do you have the right balance?


photo credit: © byheaven -

Michel Operto

I've been leading IT projects for more than 20 years at telecom and computer manufacturers: Thomson Sintra, Digital Equipment, NCR, Nortel Networks, Orange Business. My passion is Project Management and leadership and I run a blog on the PM best practices at