Project teams are complex and it’s essential that the team works together productively to achieve the end goal. Every so often, there will be a ‘project maverick’ that upsets the balance. Perhaps they ignore the plan, or escalate an issue straight to the CEO. Mavericks are often seen as a Project Managers worst nightmare, as they ask difficult questions and attract unwanted attention. Organisations rarely reward this kind of behavior – after all, nobody wants someone questioning a signed-off business case… it’s signed off, right? And we’re here to deliver.
But what if the business case is wrong?
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, projects need more mavericks. Whilst it isn’t always convenient, mavericks actually help projects in a number of ways. Mavericks force projects to face the cold hard facts by speaking openly and honestly. Managed well, a maverick might just save your project.
It is worth noting however that there is a difference between a ‘maverick’ and a ‘troublemaker’. A ‘maverick’ will be constructive and have the interests of the team, project and company at the heart of what they do, whilst ‘troublemakers’ can be destructive and self-serving.
Project mavericks help in at least three key ways:
- Face the cold hard facts: In projects, there can be a tendency to ignore inconvenient data. Anomalies are ‘explained away’ and are never truly dealt with. Mavericks force project teams to address these issues by exposing the cold hard facts. If an individual is constantly raising issues, whilst others around him/her are silent, the temptation can be to ignore them and to brand them a ‘troublemaker’. It is much better to hear them out, and consider if their concerns are valid.
- Speaking their minds: Difficult projects sometimes become political. People tone down their language and tow the company line. Rather than saying “This software is bad and it will never work” they say “We are facing challenges…” Mavericks cut through this, and succinctly and clearly explain issues in simple terms. They will say what others are thinking. This is rarely popular, but ultimately wouldn’t you rather know the real status of your project?
- Innovating: Mavericks aren’t afraid to break the company mold and try out new techniques. They’ll question organisational norms, and might even suggest changing well established practices. Mavericks will often ask the taboo questions like “Why do we do things this way?” and “Why can’t we change things?”. This kind of tenacity and passion can bring significant benefits to projects and organizations when it is correctly managed.
Ultimately, most mavericks act the way they do due to a genuine desire to meet organisational and project objectives. Organisations that listen to and embrace their views are likely to run more successful projects. Organisations that treat them like heretics are likely to repeat the same mistakes over and over!