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When a project manager has to say no

Project managers (and CIOs, for that matter) are often put into situations where they are asked to go forward with a project despite several reasons to not do so. While ego is often a problem in these situations, a “force push” of a project can also be due to executive level management simply not having the right information in front of them. This blog post by Ron Rosenhead offers up 7 reasons to say “no” to someone within your organization  – even if they are much higher in the management chain than yourself. The showstoppers include using the change request process to assure that the full effect of changes are studied and also when the business benefits are compromised. Another reason to say no comes from a lack of financial sense:

When the business case makes no financial sense but someone (a key stakeholder or senior manager) is pushing to get the project started – develop a strong well-argued business case to gain formal approval before moving the project forward. Sometimes you have to accept that politics will win over however cover yourself by putting a very strong case against the project.


In some cases, if the business benefits are compromised, the project manager is strongly advised to make the sponsor or project owner aware even if he or she feels discomfort in doing so. Furthermore, if all other suggestions fail, abandoning the project may be in the senior manager’s best interest. If there is no clear sponsor or owner of the project and once cannot be found after searching, there is again cause for the project to be abandoned. It is important to note in this instance that projects with clear ownership have a greater chance of succeeding versus those without. Once again, as Rosenhead points out, any lack of a structured control process needs to be identified as a project risk, and this risk needs to be directed back to the sponsor or executive. As difficult as it is to say, sometimes – ‘no’ is indeed the best policy.

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