Three Post-Covid Reasons Your Project is Failing

Projects fail for all kinds of reasons – here’s a few things that are different after Covid…..

You’re Trying to Manage a Team on Chat

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not anti-IM. Chat, and its appropriately named cousin, Slack, are fine for a QQ to an individual or small group. What it doesn’t take the place of is a well-run meeting, goals, action items, workflow tools, documented requirements, baseline reporting, status, deliverables – ya know – the “work.”

It’s amazing how many people think nothing of constantly interrupting their highly-paid resources to insist they participate in circuitous Chat threads. Pre-Covid, no one would have ever said to their boss or co-workers, “Follow me around today and listen to all my conversations. That way, you’ll know what I’m doing.” How is constantly being interrupted by chat any different?

Talk is cheap, and the cheapest of all talk is chat.

I recently attended a meeting with a client’s finance team. They were proposing changes to their enterprise Rev Req process. Flow chart? Business Rules? Requirements? SOW? Nope, the guy pulls up a chat from three days ago, and proceeds to add people to the thread – really?

Talk is cheap, and the cheapest of all talk is chat. If you want to be 100% sure that your project will run over budget, over schedule, and your team will be lost in the chum and churn of incomplete direction, “manage” your projects via Chat.

Drug Problems

Maybe you heard: The United States has a drug problem, and that drug problem definitely has gotten worse since Covid. I’ve spent more than a decade working as a Fixer, and I can tell you that the root cause of more than one project / business failure is a key individual (or several individuals) with a drinking or drug problem.

It’s important to keep in mind that just because someone isn’t shit faced drunk at work doesn’t mean they don’t have a drinking problem. “Functional” drunks will insist that they’re not drinking during work hours; ergo, they don’t have a drinking “problem.” However, the effects of their drinking are evident. They’re chronic no-shows. They’re constantly sick, late, a million doctor, dentist, and food poisoning excuses for not showing up. Forget about a morning meeting. They can’t get out of bed. They’re unreliable. They can’t complete anything. When confronted, they will push their work (and blame) on to others. They vacillate between belligerent, and a professional victim, which makes you want to avoid them and assign their tasks to others, which is exactly what they want. #enabler

Another Post-Covid change is the ubiquity of Adderall and its many cousins. Unlike the drunk – who can’t accomplish anything – the Adderall Overachiever thinks they’re super-super productive! They have no problem calling you at 10 PM (spinning like a dreidel) because they really, really need your help with the font for tomorrow’s PowerPoint presentation. (Hint: NOT Comic Sans)

About 10 years ago, I had the great misfortune to work with a man who had a serious Meth problem. I was green in my career, and a deer in the headlights; I didn’t know what I was dealing with then. Now, I know the signs. And, when I see people sniffing, unfocused, babbling, spinning, and looking exhausted, I don’t think they’re “high energy” or insomnia, or allergies – I know they have an amphetamine problem.

I work in a business that is complicated, difficult, and dense, and the last thing I need is someone so jacked-up they cannot follow even the most basic conversation.

Since Covid, I’ve seen a rise in upper use in two groups: Women (trying to do it all) and new grads, many of whom are just not used to working 8-10 hours a day, day-after-day, week-after-week. Both of these groups are trying to “cram” their lives, loves, and responsibilities into too-few hours. And, much like Lucy in the Chocolate Factory, they are failing.

If you find yourself in a situation where you have a client or (god forbid) a boss with a drug problem, start looking for a job immediately. Forget about HR, or confronting anyone. This situation is NOT win-able. There’s nothing you are going to do, nothing you are going to say that will make that person change. Nothing. Not anger. Not sympathy. Nothing.

Life isn’t an “Afterschool Special.” It’s more like “Intervention.” It will take you about 2-3 months to figure out what going on. Once you do, create space between you and Adderall Annie, or Day-Drinkin’-Dan, and funnel ALL your energy into your exit plan. If you don’t, this person will eventually “Nurse Jackie” you. You’ll be fired, blamed for everything, and they will continue on as they have before.

You’re Still in Crisis Mode

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since the advent of Covid. When it hit, all business rules were thrown aside, and “Crisis Mode,” took the place of planning. Business pivoted their e-com sites to accommodate a flood of delivery methods, “Essential” workers were defined, money was quickly appropriated (no business case needed), to mission-critical efforts – every fiber of our corporate being was in crisis management mode.

Here’s the problem: Humans are creatures of habit, and crisis mode has become our new habit.

During Covid, workers capitulated to excessive demands for overtime. Now? Quite quitting and labor strikes are in the news. And, it’s not just workers who are setting boundaries. Check signers are waking up as well. During the past two years no one paid any attention to ROI, cost-benefit, roadmapping, priorities – who had time for that mammsy-pammsy stuff? We’re in a crisis!

Covid was like a big fire; no one questioned thousands of people carrying buckets of water. Now, the smoke has cleared, and we realize that if we had better equipment, we wouldn’t need as many people with buckets.

You’ve surely heard corporate leaders feigning apologies as they layoff “over-hired” water bearers. All companies are evaluating their staffing, their roadmaps, and even their missions. But, what corporate leadership is not saying is that in just two years, they’ve actually become a bit rusty (and a little too comfortable with Slacking-in direction). Many have fallen out of the practice of truly managing a business. Now, we’re starting to hear again questions like: What, exactly, are your metrics? Where’s the market research? Where’s the business case for the $1.3 system upgrade? What’s the ROI? Where’s the depreciation schedule? Projects that cannot answer these questions are being axed, and the bucket brigade is being axed with ’em…

Final Thoughts…

Complacency is frequent companion of hubris, and even though making it through the past few years is an accomplishment, don’t think that it’s a vaccination against failure. The world has changed, but the purpose of business has not. The goal of running a business is to make a profit, not just have a high stock price.

The next couple years are going to be rough. Regardless of your press, your followers, or your brand: If you’re not running your business well, running your projects well, and making a profit, you won’t be here much longer.


Copyright 2023 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

The Real Reason Men Want You Back in the Office: They’re Lonely

The demand we all return to the office (so we can all hang out together) seems to come from predominantly men. Why?

They all admit that working at home has not effected the ability of employees to complete their tasks and achieve their goals. Without productivity metrics (something greatly loved pre-Covid) to bolster their argument, these executives are forced to rely upon qualitative and anecdotal reasonings. This is when you’ll hear your c-level overlord wax nostalgic for their pre-Covid Corporate Camelot, how awesome it was, and how this beautiful, perfect culture needs to be proselytize and, if that doesn’t work, brutally enforced.

Corporate culture is a pyramid. There are a few people at the top – literally – on those upper floors, in those big offices with the windows. If you’re really important, the “corner” office with multiple windows. Where are the people holding up the base and sides of the pyramid? Downstairs, in a cube, with the rest of the subjects to be ruled.

I’ve spent 30 years working in some of the biggest corporations at the highest levels, and it has not escaped my attention – nor the attention of labor — that corporate culture is little more than a relic of the Edwardian era. Instead of Dukes, Duchess, Prince and Princesses, we now have Executive VPs, Directors of <stuff>, and assorted lords and ladies of the court who are swept up in the largess of executive coattails.

I’m not down on corporate fat-cats. Being one is kind of sweet. And, what a killer job! What you say goes! No arguments, no need to compromise. Corporate executives are literally surrounded by the fear and trembling of compliant subordinates. When the boss says jump, people jump! Ya know where that doesn’t happen? Every place else on Earth!

There’s a lot to unpack in the WFH debate. Let’s start with the basics:

Men are Lonely.

Men are lonely. They have few friends. They have no women friends. That “culture” they’re bemoaning? It’s an office where they can shoot the shit with the boyz and go to lunch with the gurls. The words “comradery” and “collaboration,” soo important, are thrown into the mix. What that really means is they miss hangin’ with their buddies, and what men really miss is the company of women – women who understand their work, women who laugh at their jokes, women who aren’t their wives. In short: They miss having friends.

Why don’t men have friends? There’s a lot of reasons, but the primary one is that men don’t have friends unless their wives approve of them. This is probably the worst thing about being in a relationship if you’re a guy. Suddenly, every single person in your life must have the nod of your SO. If she doesn’t like ’em, you’re not going to be friends anymore. Female friends? Forget that – they’re toast.

Men aren’t permitted to have female friends unless she’s his sister, and then only with your woman’s approval!

I work in tech. Not surprisingly most of the people I work with are men. My SO works in HR. The majority of his colleagues are women. Should I demand that my man never socialize with his work colleagues? Lunch with the girls? Nope – He should sit in his cube, alone. Happy hour? Not unless I’m there to supervise and approve. What about my work buddies? Am I permitted to have a few beers with the guys after work? What about travel? Should I pass on dinner, and stay in my room and read?

The f-d upness of relationships, love, friendships is a topic for another article, but I think we can all agree that men, in general, lead kind of lonely lives. That needs to change, but making me drive 45-minutes to an office (on my time and dime) so you can feel good about yourself isn’t the way to do it.

Men Derive Their Status from Work.

Our culture associates the value of a man with the job he has. It’s not right, but it is. At work, you’re the VP of this or the director of that. Those titles convey a rank, status. You’re treated with some respect, reverence because of your title. You know where highly-paid and highly-respected C-level men don’t derive status and respect? Having dinner with their 14-year old.

Sheryl Sandberg wants us to lean in, take a seat at the table, and, ultimately sit at the head of the table. Here’s the thing: In the virtual world, there’s no table. Bob Iger is just a little square — like everyone else. In fact, if you’re not talking on your vid, you might not even be on screen. How’s everyone supposed to know that they should be focused on you when you’re not sitting in the power-position at the table, and they’re not in your corner office with your big desk and that killer view of the skyline?

Video calls don’t convey status. You’re a little square – like everyone else.

This is where I see the generation gap the most. Those men who are young in their careers, and guys with young families are not “office-centric,” certainly not in the way men were back in the day. But, if you’re one of those Boomers and Gen Xers whose defined your life and persona by the status you derive from your job, it’s not likely you’re going to give up the trappings of a culture that sees you as a Grand Duke. And I don’t blame you one bit! Doesn’t everyone want be be surrounded by the adoring and obedient?

I Hate My Spouse (and/or Kids)

I think it’s safe to say that there are lots of people who aren’t exactly living the marriage dream. Their attraction to their spouse left years ago. Staying together for the children? Yep. Leading separate lives. You betcha! Grinding it out until <something happens>. Absolutely. What’s a few more years? You’ve been doing it this long, and you’re at work most of the time, right? Except now you’re not…

You can’t avoid your family and its responsibilities when you’re working from home.

When you go to an office, you have a safe place to hang. Getting in early, and staying late is the easiest way to avoid your spouse. If you make a decent amount of cash, there can be travel with your adoring and obedient friends, and team happy hours and dinners where you get to hang with the boyz, pick up the check, and be “the man.” Housework, errands, child care, shopping – so droll! You have people for that! And, besides, you’re at work! You can’t be responsible for honey-do’s if you’re never home. Even better, if you work all the time, you have a solid reason not to do anything but sleep and play video games when you are home. Nirvana.

Final Thoughts….

There’s no doubt that old-school-old-boys want “workers” to return to the office. Why? To support their “culture” – a culture where (mostly white) dudes are happily at the top of the ladder. It’s nice up there. They have windows, and lots of natural light….

It doesn’t matter what your title is; When you’re home, there’s no reason you can’t start the dishwasher …

Lowly cubical dwellers also know that despite the #Elon, #BobIger #JamieDimon edicts and hoopla, demands all workers return to the office are largely ignored by the executive ranks, and riddled with exceptions for other groups and individuals. Executives never really worked in the office anyway. Many travel, work from home whenever they feel like it and, for the most part, they come and go as they please. What bosses do like is to being surrounded by their buddies and loyal subjects when the DO decide to come in. And, what they really don’t like is that the freedom to come and go – the freedom that was conferred upon them by their status and rank – has been inadvertently (and many feel undeservedly) bestowed upon their subjects!

The move away from the office and into virtual work is yet another example of precipitous decline of the white male empire. That decline has been facilitated by Internet and VPN technology, and it is continuing with the slow but steady elimination of the symbols of corporate hierarchy and status: The corner office, the assistant, the private conference room, the preferred parking, the jet. These have been replaced with an avatar and a disembodied voice, which forces everyone to focus on what is said and done – not the rank, title, height, weight, clothing, desk or any other distraction.

May be it’s not such a bad thing.

Copyright 2023 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

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