The Chronically Perplexed Client


It must be terrible  to wake up each morning chronically perplexed. (CP)

CP is a condition which affects a broad spectrum of the population. It occurs randomly in children, adults, blue collar, white collar workers and yes even in the world’s top jobs. So you shouldn’t be overly surprised that it can afflict your client too. It comes in various forms from mild chronic perplexation (MCP)  that causes a client to “not get” proposals and makes them unable to make informed decisions in a timely manor. The more advanced stage of the condition is called Pernicious Chronic Perplexation. (PCP). Clients under the influence of PCP exhibit the following symptoms.

“PCP can cause distinct changes in awareness. At high doses, PCP can cause hallucinations.  Other effects that can occur are blurred vision, loss of balance, and dizziness. High doses can also cause effects such as delusions, paranoia, disordered thinking, a sensation of distance from one’s environment, and catatonia. Speech is often sparse and garbled. “

Oops.. nope that’s wrong. I looked up the drug phencyclidine (PCP) instead. But let’s check the similarity of the symptoms again

  • hallucinations – “we are going to deliver this by the end of the month”
  • blurred vision – project goals and objectives lose its clarity
  • loss of balance – “if everybody just works 20 hours / day, we can catch up”
  • delusions – “there are no bugs”
  • paranoia – “if we don’t get this into QA by friday, we’re all going to die”
  • disordered thinking – “lets work on X, no Y, no X”
  • distance – “wow that team over there is just so messed up” – referring to a group in your team
  • catatonia – have you heard from Bill since last thursday?
  • sparse and garbled speech – not speaking often or clearly enough.

Hmm… the similarities are striking.

However, a client under the influence of PCP is still your client. What do you do?

  1. call Dr. Phil for an intervention
  2. treat the symptoms
  3. treat the cause

The answer of course is (3) treat the cause. You are the consultant. Ultimately succeed or fail, you will be paid and then move on to the next engagement. Your client is not so fortunate. Big projects are big career risks. A failed project can effectively terminate or set-back your client’s career. So don’t be surprised if they get a little stressed or chronically perplexed if things come off the rails.

It’s simple. If you see any of the symptoms of PCP, take immediate action to determine the root cause and correct it. Most often the following are suitable corrective actions:

(In my Blog Watching for signs of project trouble I listed some early warning indicators.  Now let’s go through the list. It is very likely this is why your client has the symptoms of PCP. Here’s some ideas on how to fix it.)

  • Is management direction inconsistent or missing – get the direction set/re-set and broadly communicated 
  • Has the project leadership gone AWOL? – get all of the leaders together and committed to resolution
  • Is there anyone on your team unable to articulate the project’s goals? – make sure everyone understands the goals
  • Project management and business management seem disconnected? – hold joint sessions
  • The team lacks a commitment to clearly articulated and commonly understood goals? – influence the team to adopt a common goal
  • Team members don’t listen to one another? – use communication best practices to ensure bi-directional communication happens
  • The team is in a state of discord? – have a night out! and then resync
  • Lack of Velocity? – plan every morning – check progress every night
  • Increasing number of small slippages? – reset schedule once with everyone bought-in and only once.
  • People willing to trade quality off for schedule? – reset schedule once for quality with everyone bought-in and only once
  • Resources are being temporarily diverted to urgent matters? – crazy glue them to their chairs or have 1:1 with managers to create transparency of the impact of resource consumption
  • Limited stakeholder involvement and/or participation? – leverage informal time and opportunities to increase stakeholder participation
  • Team members lack requisite knowledge and/or skills? – time to call the game on some and crash course training for others
  • Subject matter experts are overscheduled? – optimize the use of their time , strict agenda’s and meeting outcomes and free up 20% of their time.
  • Weak change control process? – sell the reason why you need process and then be draconian about limiting change. Push change requests to the very top for approval with full transparency of impact
  • Project Status reports puzzle you? – clear, succinct and short. Document things that are worth the time to read, nothing else

But it’s not my job you say? Yes it is.  This is not one of those times when you can stand on the sidelines and be a spectator. If you do, you will be witness to a spectacular sinking. When the symptoms of PCP  are visible, it is the harbinger of failure. You need to influence the above actions and if not successful in influence then intervene directly.

The good news is that withdrawal from PCP is short with limited enduring damage. What does that mean? It means you can save both the project and your client.

Don’t let PCP ruin your client’s success. Do something about it.

I spent a number of years of my career on global “fly and fix” missions, parachuted into projects that had gone “red” and needed a fresh set of thinking to get them back on track. What you will notice is that projects in trouble are a little like a sailboat keeling over, they have lost their forward motion and just get heavier and heavier with water.  As you start to bail (making small positive changes) it will begin to right itself and the bailing will get easier and easier as you progress, If you don’t do that initial bailing, it will “turn turtle” from neglect and then sink. Don’t make the assumption that the Project Manager or Lead can do it alone. Every bit of bailing at this stage makes an enormous difference. A little bailing though and it will right itself and have the wind catch it’s sails once again.


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1 Response to The Chronically Perplexed Client

  1. Pingback: Infinite Shades of Grey – A year later and a little greyer | Infinite Shades of Grey

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