Trust – the final frontier?

I’ve been forced to consciously reappraise the value of trust in project management after taking it for granted and recently being wrong-footed when it wasn’t there.

Linda Bourne gives a good insight in her blog.

I wanted to add a few thoughts of my own based on recent experiences.

I believe there is a systematic, almost cultural, level of trust in many organizations, linked to the age of the organization and usually conditioned by the reward (for success)/punishment(for failure) balance. Young organizations tend to default to trusting behaviours, but long-established organizations tend to default to distrust due to painful memories of punishment for failure. This leads to “arse covering” to the detriment of project  progress.

There is also, quite specifically, trust in the project leader. Such trust comes from several factors:

  • Reputation and experience
  • Personality and charisma
  • Success being seen to be achieved (milestones etc)
  • Familiar ways of working – working within normal practices

The first 3 are blindingly obvious, but managing complex projects in environments with no track record of successfully delivering them creates a major problem on the 4th point: how do you maintain confidence in a way of working that is not the norm? This requires enormous focus on communication and education of your stakeholders, and still may not be a success – failure to work in the familiar way, no matter how inappropriate, may break trust under pressure.