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Early in my career,  I was the Program Manager on an extremely challenging program.  The critical decisions were made outside my sphere of influence, but my job was to make them a reality, no questions asked.  Senior management was often arbitrary and out of touch, which made it difficult for the program team to deliver quality, on-time results.  My options to lead the program in a different direction seemed non-existent, so in an attempt to bring order out of chaos, I spent hours creating metrics charts.  The results were massive, complicated printouts far too large for anyone to have an individual copy, so I covered my office walls with schedule art.  People trooped in to look at them and report on their delays, whereupon I made new charts and repapered the walls.  After months of correcting and reprinting, I realized I was no longer managing the teams, or driving the process, I was simply recording their inability to meet commitments.

This precipitated an unfortunate period of ineffective coping behaviors.  Some days I slunk in and out of my office, hoping no one would notice the LOSER sign I had hung around my neck.  How could I be so incompetent? On other days, I simmered with righteous indignation, challenging senior management with the negative impact of their decisions.  How could they do this to us?   It was not pretty.  Eventually I moved on to a more satisfying opportunity, but when I looked back on my struggles, I began to see options to effect change that I had never explored.  It was an invaluable learning experience.

It’s tough when a Program Manager’s need for clarity and dedication to rigor meets the often messy reality of corporate life.  When we can’t bring order out of chaos, we sometimes get caught in a downward spiral, defeated by overwhelm, saturated with helplessness, and smoldering with grievance.  It’s in these moments that we need something more than Microsoft Project.  We need a finely-honed set of soft skills to help us negotiate our way back to a position of power.