Don’t let a false sense of insecurity sink your IT project

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David Cotgreave
David Cotgreave
David Cotgreave MBA, BSc (hons), PRINCE II, brings over 25 years of experience in Programme Management, Consultancy and IT Leadership, not only to this next edition but to his current role at Stoneseed Ltd, a company he founded in 2009. The company offer a unique proposition - Project Management as a Service (PMaaS).


Getting lulled into a false sense of SECURITY can be bad enough – in your personal life, in sport and, of course, especially in business.

Last year my friend’s company boasted about a new contract on social media before the client had signed on the dotted line only to have their bitterest rival swoop and steal the deal at the last minute! It’s said that overconfidence is what brings down empires but what of underconfidence?

My colleague David Cotgreave recently wrote a post about how to be “Complex Project Ready”. It was inspired by very real doubts expressed by perfectly capable Project Management professionals about their ability to manage the trickier programmes in their portfolio.

They’re not alone. I’m seeing something of a trend. There are pockets of self-doubt among some Project Management professionals and encouragement from some boardrooms to adopt an over cautious, risk averse, softly, softly approach isn’t helping.

It is far from the safe, sensible option though and by falling into a false sense of INsecurity IT Project Managers are denying their stakeholders potential innovation.

Of course, it’s not everyone but it is worth shining a light on the issue and perhaps investigating a few workarounds – who knows, sometime in 2017 you or I might have a wobble.

So why does it happen?

Sometimes it’s stimulus. Your IT Project hits a problem and you lose your nerve.

Think about it. When an IT Project doesn’t go the way you hoped … how do YOU react? Do you roll up your sleeves and face up to the changed reality of you find yourself in or do you allow a seed of doubt to take root? Do you draw upon your experience and the many project successes you have had over the years or do you start to question your ability?

If you doubt yourself then you’re not alone. There have been many studies over the years that suggest our brains are hard-wired to focus on the negative, particularly during difficult times. It probably harks back to our earliest instincts when an awareness of danger and how to avoid it was a crucial survival skill.

These instincts served us well back then but no matter how many nights’ sleep have been lost to IT Projects I’ve never heard of one actually becoming a lethal predator. Anyway, the huge change projects and complex IT architectures that exist point to the fact that IT Project Managers have evolved to be able to suppress this instinct. Indeed, most of the Project Managers who have expressed doubts have an impressive back catalogue of success.

So what’s the story?

Loss of Confidence

Sports stars, at the top of their game, can suffer from a loss of confidence. You see it all the time so it’s perfectly natural that Project Managers, even those at the top of their game, occasionally do too. When you lose your confidence … your capability, competence and experience will only get you so far.

Why do Project Managers with a seemingly impeccable track record sometimes find themselves lacking in confidence?

Research suggests that it may be down to the language that we are exposed to. Apparently, there are almost twice the number of negative emotional words than positive in the English dictionary. In Project Management we have been bombarded with statistics about failure for many years and in some cases, it is starting to leave a mark.

One Project Manager told me that although she had never had a project fail that often quoted Gartner statistic that 75% of I.T. projects fail haunts her. Statistically, she thinks, after ten years she’s due a turkey!

But why?

Even if 75% do fail (and more contemporary studies put the number lower) that means 25% do not. Why can’t you choose to be part of the 25% (or more) that deliver successful outcomes by doing what you do? The repeatable habits, governance and skills performed by talented Project Managers is what creates those successes.

In any case, you are not defined by an IT Project running off course or a single failed Project.

It’s human nature to want to take yourself out of the game when you feel that you’ve failed, lick your wounds, become a risk dodger but in IT Project Management it is the worst thing you can do.

Before we consider some workarounds, here’s an interesting question …

Do Women Suffer Self Doubt More Than Men?

It is mostly female Project Managers I find myself talking with about confidence. Now, it could be that we’re just more open and better at expressing our feelings than men or but there have been a number of studies over the years that back this up. When the Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed British managers, half of the female managers declared some doubt about their job performance compared with less than a third of men.

The main take away from this though is that I DO have more conversations with women about this so we’ll start our OVERCOMING FALSE SENSE OF INSECURITY STRATEGIES right there …

1) Talk. When you verbalise doubts, insecurities or challenges you are facing you shrink them and invite solutions. I often find that as I hear myself describing an issue I come up with a solution myself. Get a mentor, phone a friend, fire up social media or get some professional help.

2) Call In The Professionals. Most doubt and insecurity stems from a lack of knowing how to proceed. The IT Project Management as a Service market has a wealth of solutions, tools and people with the answers. Take advantage and get someone in!

3) Take a break. Get your head out of your Project and focus on something totally different. Walk the dog, doodle, play sport, listen to music or do something that you excel at … when you take the pressure off solutions often appear from nowhere and your perception of yourself changes.

4) Look After Yourself. Self-doubt and self-neglect seem to go hand in hand and they spiral one way together. Drink plenty of water, eat well, exercise and sleep!

5) YOU ROCK! Sometimes focusing on how far you still have to go and the project challenges that lie ahead can foster self-doubt. You find yourself questioning whether you will be capable. Give yourself credit for how far you have come and what you have achieved already. Step away from your desk, silence your phone, put down your schedule and take a quiet moment to reflect on how much you have rocked so far! This will give you a clear vision of how capable you actually are! KNOW THIS. YOU ARE ACTUALLY BETTER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE. The IT Project Management world is populated by the most creative, talented and driven talent. However good you perceive yourself to be I believe that you are better. Your successes point to this truth.

Even the most self-confident IT Project Managers will experience moments of self-doubt from time to time. When you do, you need a strategy that works for you to conquer this false sense of insecurity before it impacts on project outcomes. This is the difference between those who overcome their doubts and those who are controlled them.

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Project management has developed into a fully-fledged chartered profession since the granting of the Royal Charter in the UK to The Association for Project Management (APM) in 2017. Training courses for project managers were already available and highly popular to help people gain professional project management accreditation, but with this wider recognition of the profession it is now seen as a desirable career path for many. Whilst the APM has the coveted Royal Charter and continues to develop its APM PMQ (formerly the APMP) programmes, there are also other internationally recognised qualifications that continue to be highly regarded such as PMP and PRINCE2.

Organisations have become increasingly project-focused in this era of rapidly emerging new technologies and they value the expertise that comes with experienced and fully qualified project teams and managers. By investing in their project management capability businesses can be confident of delivering their new projects in time and on budget more often and more successfully. Many major corporation are now training their people to have the right project management qualifications as well as relevant experience, through internal Learning & Development (L&D) programmes; or by using external project management training providers.

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