There has to be healthy tension on your project

Dawid Naude
3 min readJul 3, 2022

If there aren’t tough decisions being made on a regular basis where people feel some discomfort, it’s probable that at some point things will move from being ‘great’ to ‘not great’ seemingly overnight. We call this a ‘watermelon’, it’s green for a short period, then red for a long one, with almost no amber in between.

It’s controversial but I could even go so far to say that if you don’t have at least some frustrated early in a program then it’s likely that difficult conversations aren’t being had when they should. Complex projects rarely go to plan and need to be constantly adjusted.

Death by 1000 cuts

Small, unaddressed issues build up over time. It’s the project manager who constantly says yes to small changes that weren’t in the original plan, without changing the plan. The vendor that asks when the absolute last day is to provide an artefact, but still misses it by a few days or weeks, but the plan doesn’t adjust. The product owner that states that every requirement is critical. Not making an executive decision on a unified process, but instead building two separate paths for essentially the same thing because it was easier than making a tough decision and upsetting one party.

In an ideal world these conversations should be happening at every level, but at the very least it needs to happen within leadership. This also isn’t that simple and as always nuance and context is required, because you can’t be so inflexible that whenever there’s ambiguity we are locked into a contractual administration.

Thoughtful disagreement

Ray Dalio calls this the ‘art of thoughtful disagreement’. A healthy project is one where you can challenge each other up and down the ladder. It starts within your team first, then across client and multiple vendors.

As with anything involving humans, the way you deliver the message is more important than the message itself. It needs to be real-time/near real-time and over a conversation. Handling disagreements over email or messaging creates problems. If you feel more comfortable doing it over email I highly suggest you take the opportunity to build courage and have a one on one conversation instead. Delivering this with professionalism is critical, and your stakeholders will respect you more for it.

Change and disappointment is inevitable

The plan will change, the scope will change, there has to be disappointed people along the way. Your stakeholders will have unlimited requirements, and they won’t all be catered for. There will be several times where the program needs adjustment and difficult decisions need to be made.

The map is not the territory, in theory practice and theory are the same, in practice they are not.

If you’re in a leadership position, the art of thoughtful disagreement and having regular crucial conversations is critical and something to work on every day.

If you’re not in a leadership position, this is a great time to start building the resilience through asking tons of questions. You may not need to make statements, but you can ask questions.

Good luck with some important conversations, there is no doubt one you’ve been putting off.