Is it worth hiding the truth while managing projects? There were several comments to my article on unethical and unprofessional behaviour. They say it is. In some cases, it might be easier to solve problems quietly. Without informing stakeholders. I want to warn you against it! Truth is a tool in project management.
I had experience working in an organization where I had to manage truth. I was not allowed to inform stakeholders when people leave the team, and we take someone new. It may seem like not a big deal. But, it lasted for years. Many changes happened.
At some point, it became a mess. Any internal or external report on human resources was a real pain! Also, I never knew when it will backfire and what will be the consequences. It was so hard to build trustworthy relationships with stakeholders…
So, why would you want to hide the truth? In cases where you, your career or your organization is at risk. Also, when you feel you can solve a problem without unnecessary exposure. You just fix the problem and no one even knows it had appeared.
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”
I cannot find any justification for hiding problems, moreover, telling lies. However, I do have these broad arguments for keeping to the truth in project management. They work for me well for a long time already.
It is unethical to manage truth.
Even if you believe that you take the call and assume full responsibility, it is not only about you. There are so many stakeholders that depend on your decisions. So all of them expect you to behave in an honest way.
In some sense all of them expect you to act in their best interests. You can try to manage the truth for them. It may seem like you save them time, nerves, and efforts. However, it is not like that.
On the other hand, you can inform stakeholders about a problem. They can make a decision whether to engage in it or not. So, it will be their choice to hand off the problem to you. Especially, if you already have a sound solution.
There are better solutions
By hiding problems, you deprive yourself of options. Project stakeholders have a verity of knowledge, skills, and experiences. They might have a simple solution for your problem.
Mutual cooperation lives throughout all project management processes. One of the key responsibilities of a project manager is to facilitate interactions. Stakeholders and subject matter experts must contribute to problem-solving.
You may not know all the details
You may have reserves to mitigate the impact of a problem. However, you may just cover the bigger issue.
Quite often small problems discover serious issues in requirements and quality. Some issues may impact other requirements. Minor changes in deadlines may have a huge impact on the business.
In other words, you may not have the big picture around the project. Other people may have planned a lot of dependent activities around your work. Do not assume they considered all the risks.
Customers are ready to resolve problems
Fear is often a stopper. Problems mean risks for you and your career. However, think for a moment from another side.
A sponsor is paying for the project. He wants to achieve results and get a product or service. Most of the stakeholders will also benefit from project success.
The project is underway, and a problem appears. We spent much money, time, and resources by this moment. For sure, everyone will be happy to resolve the problem as easy as possible. In most cases, no one will put at risk the efforts that were already spent. Therefore, it is not in their best interest put a project on halt and find the scapegoat.
Punishment may come later. However, most likely it will be a valuable experience.
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Lies is too costly
Consider this. One failure will diminish all the benefits you can gain by hiding problems. One failed project cost many times more of what you might save by resolving issues on other projects.
Moreover, it is not only about money. The reputation of clients and sponsor. Careers of your team members. Stability of your organization. One failed project may have a dangerous cascading effect. It is not worth it.
Lies undermines your leadership
How would you feel knowing your boss lying to the clients? You would think that he can also lie to you.
If you are building a team. A strong and friendly one. They will have to share this lies with you. It will be a burden that will always disturb your influence on the team.
I try to be honest with my teams. Even if it hurts sometimes.
Some organization work in a way where truth in project management hurts the business. Therefore, you will not be able to work transparently with clients and sponsors. There will be procedures and policies that restrict the honest relationships. Unless you have strong reasons, I suggest you keep away from such organizations.
Recommended Further Reading: