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Owning the Project Gaps

There is an odd behavior that sometimes results from the pressures of working on a project. A staff member may be falling behind and for some reason they fail to inform their PM until it is too late to make corrective changes. This is what Harry Hall calls “the gap.” In his PM South blog, Hall details the causes, signs, and solutions of this phenomenon, and its implications for risk management.

What is a Gap?

Generally speaking, a gap is what happens when there is a difference between what is accomplished and what was expected. The staff member can hide this fact from their project manager, or they can “confess” the gap and seek resolution. Why wouldn’t a team member choose the latter option? Hall has a few theories, including: (a) Pride (b) Poor Accountability (c) Wishful Thinking (d) Fear (e) Apathy.

Fill it with Trust

To counteract non-disclosure tendencies among team members, Hall recommends a trust building strategy based on a leadership podcast by Andy Stanley that involves: (1) Proactive Communication (2) Update Requests (3) Supportive Management (4) Identifying those with Gaps. But most importantly, according to Stanley, each gap disclosure must be filled with trust. In other words, if a team member comes forward to confess their difficulties, we must counteract the impulse to act with suspicion. This will only reinforce their fear of admission, add to their stress, or agitate their pride.

Are You the Gap Holder?

Stanley’s logic doesn’t apply to team members only. Project managers can fall prey to the gap when reporting to sponsors. Whether you are working with team members or sponsors, it pays to keep risk management in mind in the order of (1) Cause (2) Risk (3) Impact. If responsibility rests disproportionately on a certain team member, take them aside and address the issue early. Follow up with clarified expectations or disciplinary action if needed. If a gap exists, mind the gap!


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About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI’s Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master’s degree in communications at Penn State University.

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