“Under Pressure” – Mitigating Pressures in Project Management

I recently delivered a training in which I was able to squeeze two David Bowie songs – a tribute to the late legend and a tactic to reinforce learning. My property professor back in law school used to drive home important concepts using pop songs. The songs had lyrics related to what we were studying; for example, Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get a Witness” helped us remember evidence rules related to proving personal property rights.

Aside from ending with the obvious OD anthem, “Changes”, I headlined the training with the great Bowie-Mercury “Under Pressure” duet. We are all under some kind of pressure, both at home and in the workplace – family pressure to earn money to pay the utility bills, work pressure to finish a project before a deadline, or personal pressure to lose a few pounds put on during the holidays.

How do we mitigate these pressures so they don’t interfere with our project progress? Peter Block, in his book “Flawless Consulting” (2011), says that when the people we work with seem unmotivated towards a project, it is likely because they are under coercive pressure. This pressure can come externally from superiors placing restrictions and demands (i.e. strict budgets), or it could be internal fears or apprehension about losing control of the situation. For example, a business leader might want to hire a consultant to develop a new training curriculum for the company’s employees, but the leader may feel apprehensive about having someone outside the company take charge in such an important function.

Block writes that we have to ask questions of our project partners to identify the pressures they face. Once those forces are identified, we can change the project to relieve those concerns. For example, we can reduce the project scope to include only certain parts of the original plan. A training curriculum development project can be reduced to only designing a few of the most important modules. A plan to restructure a department can shrink down to a simpler data collection project. Once these pressure-relieving projects – “small-step projects” as Block calls them – are completed, we can go back to the drawing table and negotiate whether we should give the cut components another try.

Remember that in order to be successful change agents, we must address resistance to change. Apprehension is resistance, no matter how much support someone has for a project. Organizational leaders can be devoted to achieving the end goals of the project but still be reluctant to move forward, due to external and internal pressures. Even small pressures can derail the plan if not addressed. Take the time to discover the underlying issues and craft a solution that works for everyone.

We are all “Under Pressure” to be successful, but we can all be “Heroes” and hold great “Fame” among our colleagues when we find the right ways to make positive “Changes” in our organizations.