What is Your Project’s Competition?

Competition is all around. Your business is competing for clients and market share. We compete against co-workers to be on a new team or get a promotion. Pro sports teams compete to be the best in their divisions. We may even encourage our kids to compete hard and win.

Everything seems to be a competition. Even in the most collaborative of environments, some competition is prevalent.

But what about your project? Sure, you negotiated with all types of managers to get the right people. Yeah, you’ve built a culture of success with this team and are now chugging along, making progress. But lurking out there, somewhere, you and your team are competing against something. And that something can negatively impact your project. Are these risks? Absolutely they can be!

So what competition does a project have? Well, to name a few:

  • Production issues, taking people away from projects to fix them
  • New bosses in a matrix org who want their employees off projects
  • Saboteurs who pull precious resources away to put on other things so eventually, you’ll fail (it’s happened more than a couple times!)
  • Other competing high priority projects
  • Other project managers trying to one-up you so they get more resources (especially funding)
  • Stakeholders
  • Project team members outside commitments (family/kids)
  • Vacations/sick time
  • Personal issues affecting work

And the list could go on and on. Each one of these competes with your projects and have varying degrees of adversity.

In the example of saboteurs, I had a director that was upset the project I was managing got selected over the project he wanted done. So, instead of understanding the strategic importance of the project, he kept pulling people away from me, citing production issues. This happened over the course of two months. I frequently met with the sponsor, letting them know of the issues and impacts to the project. Eventually, we had to meet with the saboteur and have a pointed discussion. The pulling of people soon ended.

On the other hand, employee matters are much more delicate. These compete with your project but need to be handled in an empathetic manner. Understand their issues and put a plan together to give them the support they need while minimizing impact to your project.

But, not all competition is bad. Competition can also be a motivating factor. These include:

  • Trying to “beat the clock” by getting key tasks done ahead of time with the trophy being a happy hour
  • Friendly competition with another project team to complete something, with the loser bringing in lunch for the winner
  • Beating a tough stakeholder’s expectation in scope and quality
  • Continue to show progress on a regular basis so funding comes your way vs. other initiatives (assuming you’re working on a strategically relevant one)
  • Losing no productivity when someone is on vacation or out sick

I was once managing an IT program with three projects. We had six phases where each project had a deliverable, and these deliverables were dependent on each other to function. To promote some fun competition, I had two old bowling trophies from when I was a kid. One we called the “Got Done” award that went to the team who delivered the phase requirements with quality. The other was the “Crap Code” that went to the team who either didn’t deliver requirements and/or quality. It was a competition to win one and avoid the other. We made it fun and a source of pride.

When competition is malicious, it can get mean. Tempers flare, relationships can be broken and politics take over when collaboration is necessary. The right competition, however, is motivating and increases teamwork. Take time to understand the competition you will face.

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