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Project Management: Doing Nothing Is Always an Option
By John Simko

When deciding what to do, “doing nothing” should always be considered. I’m not talking about just sitting around and checking your Facebook account. What I am talking about is making the conscious decision to not act when there are other alternatives. As someone who is wired to take action, this is often the hardest option for me! I will give you some examples of when this comes into play on projects.

Meetings

The most common occurrence in meetings for considering “doing nothing” is when someone says something that is incorrect or does not provide the full context of the point that they’re making, which could lead others in the room to be misinformed. Obviously, there are differing extremes and frequency that this can occur, but if your meetings are anything like mine, then you are given the opportunity to “do nothing” on a regular basis. Below are some of the reasons why “doing nothing” in these situations makes sense:

  • Job preservation – the person speaking does not like being corrected and can influence whether or not you stay employed.
  • Political – It is best not to challenge the person speaking because you may need their assistance at a later date.

  • Big picture – The point being made does not have any material impact on the overall project.

  • Everyone already knows – That the person speaking doesn’t have all the facts.

  • Choose your battles – You might be right to say something, but there are only so many times you want to challenge what is being said or who is saying it in a public forum.

Project Risks

By definition, risks are something that may occur in the future and have less than 100% probability of occurring. Risks also have another component called impact, which considers the effect the risk would have on the project should it occur. With all risks, you are always given the option of doing something to mitigate the likelihood of it occurring, doing something to put a contingency plan together in case it happens, or “doing nothing” until it happens. The biggest reason for “doing nothing” is that the cost (time, resources, dollars) for developing a mitigation or contingency plan is greater than the likelihood/cost if the risk becomes a reality. The only reason I am bringing this up is that I have seen on too many occasions where project teams feel that they need to “do something” for every risk that is registered against their project. It is always ok to capture them, but just because they are entered doesn’t mean you have to do something about them. Accepting, monitoring and “doing nothing” about them is a perfectly reasonable means for handling them.

Decisions/Issues

It goes without saying that there many of these that you are forced to respond to on a daily basis. Therefore, it is hard to put them in any particular category, but it is important to always remember that “doing nothing” is always an option and sometimes is the best response. It may be that you need to “do nothing” for a short period of time (min, hours or days) so that you can think through the most appropriate response. Other times you may also choose to “do nothing” about it forever. Sometimes, if you are lucky, by electing to “do nothing” for a period of time, the decision/issue that you were presented with is overcome by events, which negates the need to “do anything”.

Why This Is Important

I am by no means advocating sitting by passively while the project carries on around you. I am simply stressing the point that you always have the option of “doing nothing” and that there are often very valid reasons why and when it is the most prudent thing to do.

John Simko has been, for the last 22+ years, working on IT projects in various capacities (software development, systems analyst and project management). During this time he has participated on over 15 unique projects for public (federal, state and local) and private sector clients. You can read more from John on his blog.

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