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Project Sustainability Predators at Work
By Gratien Gasaba

Have you ever watched a movie concerning bush meat hunting as performed by the wild big cats such as lions and leopards? Have you noticed that these big cats use a range of tactics to maximize their chances of catching the prey? Have you noticed that these strategies and tactics vary with the nature and kinds of the prey? Needless to say that a predator, say a lion, will never acknowledge to be a predator, instead it would portray itself as an accountable king of the forest that carefully defends its subjects, and righteously uses its upper hand to be fed to maintain health and survive.

In my last post I discussed 9 categories of sustainability stakeholders including the predators. The article postulated that sustainability predators are powerful people who don’t care about lasting solutions which they mostly perceive as threats to their personal interests. In their efforts to safeguard their own interests, they seriously harm project sustainability. In the context of development projects, this article attempts to describe the following non-comprehensive list of strategies and tactics used by predators in the fight against project sustainability.

The article will discuss the following strategies used, consciously or not, by some stakeholders to interfere with sustainable development.

  1. Attack against the project planning process
  2. Attack against the project documents

  3. The “less efforts for maximum results” bullet

  4. Attack against the participatory approach

  5. Superficial and inaccurate risk management

  6. The quick win magic bullet

  7. The business as usual bullet

Strategy 1: Attack against the project planning process

Sustainability predators often raise their voices against the planning process. They argue that planning is time consuming while there are time constraints. Yes, time constraints are obvious in all projects, yet adequate planning can save time. In reality the adequate planning stands for what Jesus has said about sustainability. Before you build a house dig and “go deep and lay the foundation upon the rock”. And as the old saying goes “A house is only as good as its foundation”. Project planning is for sustainability what digging deep until the rock is for the house’s foundation.

Strategy 2: Attack against the project documents

Ideas about the project are put down in a document such as the project charter or proposal. This is the minimum for a project to exist. Regardless of its quality and usefulness, each project document deserves respect because of the information it contains. We all know project documents that have become obsolete when underlying assumptions prove incorrect. Yet the good practice would be to learn from it and propose a new document on the basis of verified assumptions. Sustainability predators don’t care about the project documents which they vehemently reject without proposing a new one. They argue it cannot work, and a careful evaluator will discover a fallacy in their reasoning, with a conclusion built on wrong premises. The sustainability champions also criticize the project document, but in a different reasoning. They argue, it cannot work unless certain conditions are met.

Strategy 3: The “less efforts for maximum results” bullet

Have you ever heard some key project stakeholders strongly opposing spending more time on risk management (identification and analysis), defining the WBS to a comprehensive WBS dictionary, arguing that it will take time with no added value? Have you ever seen an influential stakeholder yawning in a meeting on project requirements and later stating (argue/mention) that, the meeting is not worth the time and efforts and asking to merely accept what is done so far? I wish there was a personality test to assess the extent to which we are prone to sustainability. It is quite enjoyable to get maximum benefits with least or without efforts. Few people if any would prefer to use more energy than required. The only question that should be answered is how long will these benefits last? When sustainability predators use the less efforts principle, in many cases they don’t care about how long the achievements will last and how many people will benefit from them. When the task becomes more complex, predators tend to demotivate people from committing themselves. They argue it is not cost effective, or it has no added value.

Strategy 4: Attack against the participatory approach

For most of development projects, sustainability depends on how stakeholders participate in all steps and processes. High participation of beneficiaries of a development program increases ownership which in turn increases the likelihood of the survival of results after project closure. Some influential stakeholders tend not to optimize participation and takes decision with little or no consultation. The cunning sustainability predators may call for a consultative meeting and finally take decisions regardless of the outcome of that meeting. Simply put, the governance aspect of project management is a critical factor for sustainability.

Strategy 5: Superficial and inaccurate risk management

Some cultures in this World are not ready to openly discuss difficulties and face facts. Proper risk management starts with objective scanning of the project environment. Some powerful project stakeholders may not accept accurate description of looming threats simply because they think it would interfere with the power they have or as result of guilt, they interpret proper risk management as a personal attack and find it reasonable to counterattack. It goes without saying that experts in sustainable development take risk management as a practical mean to avoid project sustainability erosion.

Strategy 6: The quick win magic bullet

A quick win is a visible initiative with immediate benefit but with no long-term impact on the organization, though it has to be agreed by many stakeholders. In the context of development projects, quick wins are mainly designed and implemented either as fighting tactics against the frustration at delays or to secure good first impressions of stakeholders at the beginning of an intervention. However the quick wins may become hyper-destructive weapon against sustainability if they are used as the norm in project implementation. Some sustainability predators will hide themselves behind time constraints and pressure stakeholders for results, to steadily push for quick wins, a behavior which will likely lead to unwanted scope creep.

Strategy 7: The business as usual bullet

Both the PMBOK and Prince2 agree on the nature of project. Projects are means used by organizations to introduce change such as new products, new systems, new procedures, new services etc. for a limited time period. Of course, sustainability is to get this change, once reached, to become the business as usual (routine operations). However, the reverse is not correct, the routine operations of an organization cannot become a change to implement as it already exists. Some ill-intentioned, but powerful, stakeholders may force the project management team to accept the fallacious reasoning of routine business being pre-conditions or first step for a change to take place.

Gratien Gasaba is an experienced project manager with 9 years of experience in project and program management. He has also a consulting experience in business plan development and project evaluation. Mr Gratien Gasaba has a good working experience with both national and international experts in areas of organizational capacity development, governance, health and agriculture.

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