I suspect that we don’t often link projects and perfection in our minds. Projects–even well-run projects–are human affairs with ups and downs, ins and outs. The art of project management is learning how to keep the project on track even when a difficult turn of events comes to pass.

But, I do think there is one project “back door” through which perfectionism rears its perfectly coiffed head. And that is the delicate situation, common in smaller shops, where the project manager is playing two roles on the project: project manager and also key participant.

Image courtesy of the Riverside Public Library, Citrus Label Collection

With the participant hat on, the temptation to put in “just one more feature” means that the project manager him or herself becomes a stealth-like source of scope creep. What’s especially pernicious is that the suggestions for new (out-of-scope) features come out of the mouth of the person who is supposedly guarding against this very thing!

In June, my colleague Leslie Wolf wrote about how damaging the pursuit of perfection can be. Leslie pinpointed these problem areas in the professional realm:

  • loss of efficiency,
  • loss of effectiveness,
  • procrastination,
  • inability to see the big picture, and
  • allocation of attention to nonexistent problems.

When the perfectionist is driving a project team, several of these problems turn into serious sources of scope creep. The temptation is great to look for new areas to improve, new things to add, even new issues to resolve.

Having the project manager caught up in “chasing the dream” can lead to real consequences for the project in question: patron or customer disengagement (or worse), stakeholder irritation (or worse), and team morale degradation. If the project manager doesn’t wake up and assess the situation objectively, the project sponsor will need to intervene for the good of the project. In some cases, the sponsor’s attention is sufficient to prompt the necessary assessment.

If push comes to shove, the drastic measure is to force a break up of those two roles. In other words, the perfectionist may need to give up either the project manager or project participant role. If you think that you can’t afford this division of labor, consider the alternatives listed above. Can you afford to let the project and its stakeholders suffer?