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“You’re an arrogant jerk!” snarled one co-worker to the next as he stormed out of the office. The ‘arrogant jerk’ stood behind his desk in disbelief. How could anybody call him an arrogant jerk? As far as he could see he was a knowledgeable and likeable fellow. Sure, he may come across as a bit of a know-it-all at times, but that’s a far cry from being an arrogant jerk.

Truth be known…he was an arrogant jerk. It was always his way or the highway. There was no room for opinions from anyone else on the team. He had a dismissive guffaw that he would subconsciously and audibly utter when he disagreed with someone. His flippant tone spewed “you don’t know what you’re talking about and why am I even wasting my time listening to you.” It seemed that everyone knew this guy was an arrogant jerk. Everyone seemed to know except him.

Does your company act like an arrogant jerk? You may wonder if this is even possible. It’s when a company gets too big for its britches and starts thinking they know better than the marketplace. The following are some ways this happens (especially within technology companies) and some suggestions on how to keep arrogance out of project management in IT.

An Example of Arrogance in IT Project Management

The company was doing extraordinarily well. They had secured tons of money from a venture capital firm. They were working on technology that had never been considered or contemplated at anytime prior. Everyone was telling them what a great job they were doing and kept throwing more money at them.

This small company started by a handful of really smart guys started investing in tracking tools to keep on top of all the work. They started started hiring left and right. The initial bulk of the people that were brought on were focused on supporting the technology aspect of the company. This meant engineers, developers and testers, DBAs and people who were familiar with IT project management. Months went by and great progress continued on the software product being developed.

There was a sense of collaboration with the final users (large insurance companies) as the groups worked side by side with each other. But things gradually began to change. The technology side of the company became less collaborative in nature.

They had been in the insurance arena for over a year now and felt as if they were familiar with the ins and outs of how things worked. They slowed down on reaching out to the end users. They began to feel as if they knew exactly how the application should work for the final users in the field. IT Project management went along with their tendency toward reclusiveness because it tended to keep deliverables on track and in some cases even speed things up.

Finally, after a year, the technology side of the company had become a reclusive hermit. They no longer talked to the users. They no longer looked outside the company for different or better solutions to the problems they were facing. They kept their cards very close to their chest and shared little to nothing with other parts of the company. They felt as if they knew better than anyone else and it would be hard for others to tell them anything new.

To make a long story short…the company tanked. The product releases missed the mark on what users really needed. Negative feedback came back fast and furious. The schedules for their projects started running weeks and months behind. Everyone was scrambling to catch-up and shift gears to become more aligned with the end users. But, it was too late. The venture capital company decided to cut its losses and pulled out. All that was left was a bunch of hardware and furniture that could be purchased for pennies on the dollar. Why? Because this company acted like an arrogant jerk!

Why Does Arrogance Happen in IT Project Management?

There are a number of reasons why good companies go bad and IT projects suffer as a result. The following are a few of these reasons:

  • People are Really Smart: People that work in technology are no dummies. They’ve either gone through years of schooling, have taught themselves through hard-work and perseverance, or a combination of both. These people have college degrees, MBAs, Ph.D’s and other impressive credentials hanging on their walls that show off their intelligence. Unfortunately, if not kept in check, this can cause people’s heads to swell a bit more than they should. This results in challenges when it becomes hard for these people to see that there are other paths that can be considered that may yield better results.
  • Technology is Exciting: There’s a lot of adrenaline flowing when you’re working for a company with a whole bunch of smart people that are doing things that have never been done before. Breakthrough after revolutionary breakthrough causes people to really get into what they are working on and the results. Success breeds success and unfortunately, sometimes success can breed arrogance.

  • Lots of Money: Venture capital funding flows freely. In the example of the company above, the entire staff enjoy the free catered lunches everyday (except Wednesday for some reason) and revel in the celebration parties after each milestone is met. People start walking around with a bit of a swagger in their step as they delude themselves into thinking this ride will never end.

Really smart people working on exciting technology with lots of money can cause people to lose focus on the reality of business.

What Can Be Done about it?

Therein lies the challenge. You end up working with:

  • People with Blinders On: Team members, managers and executives can become so myopic in their vision that they block out the rest of their environment. They block out what is happening in the marketplace, they block out what their customers are telling them, and worse yet, they can even block out that little voice in their head that says the path they are on is not working.
  • People Who Are Self-Consumed: Departmental silos can begin to form in this type of environment. It can even be taken down to the next level to the point of Individual silos being established. People can hole themselves up in their offices and cubes and not interact or engage with others on the team. This presents another set of challenges for IT project management
  • People Who have “Not Invented Here” Syndrome: There is nothing that anyone on the ‘outside’ can do that can compete with what has been developed internally.  This causes missed opportunities and loss of efficiencies in many areas.

It is very hard to adjust this type of thinking once a company has slipped into this mindset. What can be done? The answer can be summed up in one sentence…never let the arrogance of technology overcome the common sense of business. That’s all there is to it. Your role should include bringing a dose of business reality to everyone. You can keep tabs on what is going on outside the company. Talk to others about similar situations and experiences and how they have solved challenges. What’s more, never lose sight of what the customer needs and wants. In doing so, you can keep arrogance out of project management in IT!

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