Ken VanOverberghe
Ken VanOverberghe

project management and the seven deadly sins

I recently re-read an article in the Harvard Business Review on Corporate Redemption and the Seven Deadly Sins (HBR June 1992). The article explains how the corporate equivalents of these seven deadly sins impact company performance and are often management induced and directed. This inspired me to look at the seven deadly sins as they apply to a project manager.


Anger – Not reading the full contract. The contract is the agreed upon statement of rights and obligations to each other. Underlying that agreement are many other explicit and implied obligations. A mutual understanding of the contract is critical and can avoid disputes in the future.


Envy – Misunderstanding key contract terms. A Project Manager is not a lawyer, but they must have a good working knowledge of key terms and conditions. Working with counsel, risks and mitigations associated with key terms should be documented. Avoid interpreting based on what you think you know or how the term was characterized on a previous project.


Sloth – Poor / no documentation. Everyone is familiar with the movie quote form Cool Hand Luke – “What we have here… is failure to communicate.” Documenting phone calls, meeting minutes and field observations often takes a back seat during project execution. However, documenting and transmitting these decisions / understandings / agreements can save significant time and money during change management or, if required, dispute resolution. Contract management is an event oriented function.


Glutton – Lack of balanced project controls. Effective business and financial management is key to project success. The Project Manager in conjunction with the project team must adequately plan the project and  effectively control the execution against the plan. Often, there is so much emphasis on one aspect, say cost, that the other aspects (scope, schedule, trending, forecasting) often take a back seat. A balanced approach identifying red flags early is critical.


Greed – Weak change management. Establishing an agreed upon method for the timely identification and assessment of the effect of a change and the subsequent disposition by the client is critical. Clearly defining the change process at the start of the meeting will circumvent the end of project change notices submitted in an effort to recover cost and schedule overruns.


Pride – Failure to provide proper notification. This and greed tie closely together. The prime contract often stipulates the notification  window for potential changes and more importantly, provision on how to proceed (often client approval is required prior to commencing). Yet failure to give proper notification is the most frequent cause of disputes and the reason firms are not paid for all the work they perform.


Lust – Downplaying contract close-out. Working with your client at the start of the project to define completion and other terms (substantial completion, mechanical completion, etc., ) well as identifying your responsibilities and the clients is critical and key to the project planning process. Often times the project team is ready to move onto their next project and close-out activities often drag out for far too long.


This is not a surprising list, yet time and again I see project managers making these fundamental mistakes. By proactively addressing these issues consistently through project reviews and regular team meetings, a project manager will end up with a profesionally run project and a happier client.