“How good people make tough choices. Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living” by Rushworth M. Kidder

While choices and decisions in project management might not be as extreme as some of the examples in the book, I find it an useful resource to come back to, when options are analysed and decisions need to be made.

The author tells us from onset that “The book is for those who want to address and resolve tough choices by energetic self-reflection”. Tough choices are defined as those putting one “right” value against another. These fell, in the book, in four paradigms:

⁃ Truth versus loyalty;

⁃ Individual versus community;

⁃ Short-term versus long-term; and

⁃ Justice versus mercy.

I experienced or witnessed some of the above dilemmas, either in projects I managed or in my fellow colleagues’ projects. Ethical fitness is required in each of these dilemmas. It can be built, the same way as physical fitness, by practice.

Case in point 1. Truth vs loyalty

Mary was given a project in its last phase of implementation. It had clear symptoms of a troubled project: budget underspending, unfinished deliverables, unhappy sponsor, to name a few. Mary assessed what would be the best course of action. On the one hand she could not possibly do in 6 months what was not done in 18 months. Speaking the truth would have put the previous project manager in a negative light and would have helped Mary save face. Recovering the project, on the other hand, would have demonstrated Mary’s loyalty to her values of professionalism and to the sponsor and client. After days of weighting both choices, Mary chose loyalty and delivered the project on time and with a 85% budget spent.

Case in point 2. Short term vs long term

Peter was caught into the design of a project which was at risk of a huge scope creep. It was a multi-stakeholder project and everyone wanted a piece of pie. Accepting all demands would have played well in the short run. All stakeholders would be happy and presumably committed to the project. In the medium to long term, it would have imploded, as Peter knew from experience that it could not be done within the budget the sponsor was willing to commit. Quality would also be compromised and the chances of accessing future funds from this same donor would shrink. Peter was frank at the last stakeholders meeting. He was explicit on consequences of “accepting it all” and also acknowledged the disappointment of having to drop some desires. He lost couple of supporters at that meeting. He regained them though in 12 months through excellent project delivery.

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