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Ethics and Project Management by Ralph L. Kliem, PMP

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21
2
Why Ethics Should Matter
to Project Managers
Lets face it: Project managers have one of the hardest jobs in the world,
simply because it is unique. In an age of specialization they are likely to be
surrounded by people with a narrow disciplinary focus while they must
have a broader perspective. Project managers work from a dierent—not
necessarily higher—position that requires a dierent perspective. ats
what makes them unique in one way. Other special circumstances, too,
can contribute to ethical failure in judgment when dealing with ethi-
cal dilemmas.
2.1 UNIQUECIRCUMSTANCES
Project managers work with dierent stakeholders, that is, persons or orga-
nizations that have a direct or indirect interest in the outcome of their proj-
ect. ey may deal with executives or managers from their organization or
even those outside of it. ey may deal with vendors or suppliers as well as
people spanning a wide spectrum, from security to marketing to informa-
tion systems and nance. is unique set of circumstances can cause ethi-
cal dilemmas to occur quickly easily. For example, some executives may be
more powerful than the customer and, thereby, pressure the team or the
project manager to put the customer’s interests aside even though the cus-
tomer is paying for the project. Unique circumstances may encourage team
members to get too close with suppliers, thereby weakening or destroying
objectivity and independence as well as reining the charge of conict of
interest when agreements are made with one vendor or another.
22  •  Ethics and Project Management
Chances are that project managers have responsibility without commen-
surate authority. Unless they nd themselves in a “projectizedenviron-
ment (meaning they have functional command and control over people,
which is a rare circumstance), they are responsible for a work statement
for which they have little or no control over the resources. is is oen
the case in a matrix environment, whereby the project manager relies on
functional management and the sponsor to garner the nancial or in-kind
support to help complete a project. Such pressure can lead to actions, such
as mischarging, to move the project along rather than to adhere to estab-
lished policies and procedures by following labor charging practices or
management’s direction.
Another unique characteristic of a project is the pressure to achieve
results in a relatively short period of time. Project managers and their
team have to deliver a product or service in a prescribed time period. In
the contemporary environment, that is not an easy task. In an age of faster,
better, and cheaper, especially in the hi-tech arena, delays can be costly.
Managers have to be quick and accurate from technical, cost, and schedule
perspectives. Any delay can have negative impacts for the project and the
company. is places immense pressure on project managers and their
team. Since they likely do not have command and control over resources,
the ground has potentially been laid to cut corners, which, in turn, can
cause ethical situations and ethical transgressions to occur. For example,
project managers or their team may decide to reduce the quality via a
quick x even though everyone knows of the long-term consequences to
the public.
Still another unique position of project managers is that though the
project is short-term many of their decisions can have long-term conse-
quences. Whatever managers and their team decide today will likely have
an impact on the project some time aer delivering the product or service
to the customer. A decision to change scope or content of the product or
service, even if it goes under change control, will likely have an impact
throughout the supply chain at one time or another. Developing new drugs
is a prime example where, despite rigorous testing, without even realizing
it a decision can lead to harmful eects, such as birth deformities. is
unique circumstance can lead to ethical failure because the pressure is to
deliver by a certain date and within a certain cost. Some project managers
can become so focused that they make a decision to meet immediate needs
only to discover later on, usually from the customer or product manager,
the decisions negative ramications.

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