Sandbagging is for flooding, not project management

Sandbagging is for flooding, not project management

We’ve all seen it in sports, work, the way your friends compete with you on the court, field or trail.  But in project management, sandbagging refers to the practice of holding back positive results until the end of a project and then taking a big windfall when the project is complete. It’s a common practice, and project managers often try to justify it. They are saving the gains for a rainy day. They are waiting to make sure the gain is real. Those are fine practices up to a point, but sandbaggers take it beyond that point and so produce poor assessments of a project’s progress. While the sandbagging manager’s intentions are usually good, the
outcome is always a less-than- accurate picture of where the project and the company really stand.

When Setpoint developed the Project Management for Profit system, it incorporated some valuable restraints on sandbagging. A few things were set in place that enabled sandbagging to stay in check. First, team members should be comfortable reporting legitimate concerns to superiors. Next, appropriate correction should be taken on concerns that seem legitimate.  Let’s illustrate this process with an example:
A manufacturing project was moving along quite well. Good planning and execution combined with some hard-earned luck had put the team right on the brink of completing the project, on budget and ahead of schedule. But at the latest team meeting, the project manager’s numbers only reported the project at 70 percent complete. No one on the team voiced any concerns during the meeting, but several team members had befuddled looks on their faces.

Within an hour, two team members made separate visits to company managers, letting them know that they didn’t believe the numbers presented for their project. They had set and met goals, and they took pride in the gains that they thought they had made. But those gains weren’t showing up on the board. One of the technicians said, “How can we be at 70 percent complete on this project when all we need to do is tighten a few bolts and shrink-wrap the machine for shipment?”

One of the company’s managers investigated the situation by going over the project’s percent-complete calculations with the project manager. It soon became apparent that the project was indeed much farther along than the numbers that day had indicated. The project manager admitted that the project was ahead of schedule, but said he was nervous about some unknown issue coming into play that might negatively affect his results. Company managers persuaded him to revise his figures to reflect his real progress.

After a couple of self-corrections like this, the practice of sandbagging is likely to disappear. While the project manager had good intentions at heart, incorrectly reporting the project’s status can have some unintended negative side effects. It inaccurately reports the status of a project, which then affects the reporting of where the company as a whole stands. Sandbagging may happen with good intentions in mind, but when taken too far can have negative side effects that no project or company wants to deal with.

Source: Project Management for Profit by Roger Thomas, Joe Knight and Brad Angus, together with input from Joe Cornwell and Joe Van Den Berghe from Setpoint Inc.  Setpoint has a 25-year history of successfully designing and implementing custom rides and attractions for the top amusement and theme parks in the world.

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