10 things your IT project manager never wants to hear

"The dog ate my presentation." "We've decided to change directions." "I'm dumping this employee on you who has failed at every other thing we've assigned them." ... IT project managers have heard it all.
Written by Deb Perelman, Contributor

"This isn't what we were expecting."
"The dog ate my presentation." "We've decided to change directions." "I'm dumping this employee on you who has failed at every other thing we've assigned them."

IT project managers have heard it all, but they still shudder when they hear these excuses because the number of things that can set a project behind schedule or completely off-course are numbered to infinity--but that's not even the worst of it. Below, a round-up of the ten words and phrases that project managers say send such fear into their hearts, they must fight the urge to run for the hills.

1. "I have a challenge for you." Often uttered by a CIO or high-level manager in an upbeat, enthusiastic tone, this proposition sends most project managers running in the other direction, as they know all-too-well that "challenge" usually means "the CEO has read something in an in-flight magazine and its now very, very important for us to embrace it to be ahead of the game," says Cornelius Fichtner, an IT project manager based in Silverado, CA who produces The Project Management Podcast.

"That usually means that you're about to get a project that is absolutely impossible to succeed with, impossible deadlines, no budget, no people and by the way you have to do this on top of everything else you need to do."

2. "One minor change." The only person who thinks this change is "minor" is the one requesting it, say project managers.

"The customer often thinks its a small thing but it's actually a huge change in the philosophy and architecture of the project you're doing," said Fichtner. "But micro-changes will be exhausting as well... all of the 'two moves to the left' and 'a hue bluer'--dozens of little things that require more work."

3. "Rearchitecting" The decision to rebuild something from scratch rather than taking the time to make sense of the earlier work done on a project is rampant in project management, say its weathered team leaders, and it's always because the predecessor had "no idea what they were doing."

"Rearchitecting, it seems, is every engineer's wet dream," the software project manager behind the blog The Cranky Product Manager, tells ZDNet. "How could an engineer possibly be expected to understand the code their predecessor wrote? Better to tear down the entire house--even though its residents are perfectly sheltered--in order to remodel the bathroom or put a cover over the patio."

4. "This new [fad] technology would be perfect." Some project managers cringe at the words "fits perfectly," because in most cases, is rarely is.

Says the Cranky Product Manager, those obsessed with the newest technologies often forget about little things like deadlines. This thing needs to be DONE in two weeks and we don't have time for the developer to learn the latest resume-enhancing technology on the job while that clock is ticking," she explains.

This phrase often goes hand-in-hand with "Let's use this new, untested method instead," when "untested" anything can be the bane of any project manager's existence, says Thomas Cutting, a project manager who blogs at Cuttings Edge.

5. "I was too busy firefighting to finish." More than a 'dog ate my homework'-level excuse, employees assigned to projects that are only one piece of their grueling jobs is an unfortunate reality that project manager constantly deal with.

"I'd hear all the time that they had to put out a fire in their day job and they couldn't meet the deliverable on your project," explained Nehme Abouzeid, who spent more than four years as project manager before becoming the assistant director of business development at Las Vegas Sands. "At the heart of it, most people on your projects don't report to you all the time, and you can't control their schedules or blame them if they are stuck doing their other work... You will really need to use every trick in your arsenal to work around these limitations."

6. "I've been reassigned." It always happens to the person you need the most.

"You're on a very important project and you come into work one day and your chief architect says 'I've now been assigned to Project X and it's been nice working with you," said Fichtner, something that can set a project back weeks or months while the project manager scrambles to find a fitting replacement.

7. "Let's add more people to this!" Published first in 1975, The Mythical Man Month was written by a software project manager at IBM. The central teaching of the book was that adding more people to a project that is already behind schedule will make it later, but despite these warnings, project managers are often told that this will be the solution to their scheduling problems.

"1 programmer for 12 months does not equal 12 programmers for 1 month," reads the book's introduction. "The performance of programming teams, in other words, does not 'scale'... The way to get a project back on schedule is to remove promised-but-not-yet-completed features, rather than multiplying worker bees. "

8. "It would be technically impossible." Phrases like this are all smoke and mirrors, says one project manager.

"When a developer claims that something is 'technically impossible,' in my experience, developers only claim that the really boring stuff is technically impossible," explains The Cranky Product Manager.

"Saying something is 'technically impossible' makes marketing and non-tech types shake in their boots. ... Perhaps the way the developer thinks is the ideal is technically impossible, but almost always the customer requirements can be met via a different, more earth-bound implementation."

9. "Do you want full functionality or on time?" Telling a project manager that they need to choose between quality and executing on time is the quickest way to put them in a really bad mood, says Saeed Khan, a project management veteran who blogs at On Product Management.

"I've heard, look, we can deliver on time or with full functionality, or with high quality. Which ONE do you want?" says Khan. "Answer: I want a new development team that has a clue."

10. "It's not really what I expected." Though it sounds just like that comic strip where the customer is billed for a roller coaster but only needed a tire swing, these words come out all the time in the final unveiling.

"If this happens, you're not doing a good job because it should have happened a lot earlier, first walk-through show preliminary results to customer. Once the house is built, it's a lot more of a disaster, like one of those redecorating shows where people are shown their redesigned living room and hate it," said Fichtner.

Are there any they've missed?

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