[b]First, I apologize for the lengthy post, but it is a good example of a bad example of influence.[/b] I appreciate any comments you may have. Also, you can check out my blog about my experiences in leadership and project management at
My favorite leadership guru, author, and speaker John Maxwell states leadership very simply. He says, "leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less." This principle forms the foundation of his second law of leadership: the Law of Influence. Last week I came hard up against this law when I tried to lead a mini-revolt against the "positional" leadership of the project in which I am currently engaged.

I, and many others believe the leadership of this project is more interested in their own agenda than trying to produce the best product possible--a new enterprise-level financial/procurement/inventory software system. I firmly believe that those who will be using the system should be involved early and often in the design of the system. The "positional" leaders do not. They believe the more you involve the users the longer the system will take to develop. Actually, I part. Yes, involving the users in the design will take longer up-front, but will pay big dividends in the long-run. First, the users, having been involved will be getting a system they want and agreed to; second, we developers will spend less time on the back-end re-working a system the users do not want and does not meet their business needs.

So, I tried to "influence" others on the development team to push the leadership into accepting more input from the users. On this project there are three departments: the one I work for, a second department that does very similar work to my department but is located in Pennsylvania, and a third department that does not work anything like mine and which is also located in Pennsylvania. I was very successful with the members of my sub-team, I was mildly successful with members of the sub-team in the second department. I was not at all successful with the sub-team that works in the third department. Furthermore, all the members of the third sub-team work for managers in the third department who are also the project leaders.

When I pushed the issue of involving more user input, my sub-team worked with me. The second sub-team said they were with us, but in a teleconference they remained silent. The third sub-team and the project leadership were adamantly against me and my sub-team. Additionally, all the users who agreed with me and appreciated what my team was doing did not back us up! As a result, my team came out looking like fomenter's of rebellion and our senior level departmental manager was dragged into the fray. In the end my team was taken to the "woodshed" and told to "cease and desist" all activities related to the issue of user input.

At first I was angry and frustrated with my management, the project leadership and the users and other sub-teams that did not back us up. My sub-team and I commiserated for a while. But then I realized, I had broken the Law of Influence. I tried to get people with whom I have little or no influence to back me up; I thought they would because it was the right thing to do. However, as Maxwell says, people do not buy into the leader's vision until they buy into the leader. Even though it was the right thing, nobody but those who know me best would follow me.

I still think I am right, and all project management books and seminars back me up; but that means nothing to the Law of Influence. I should never have attempted to get the rest of the project team to push the project leadership into seeing my point of view--at least not until I had significant influence with the team members.

HMac's picture


I, and many others believe the leadership of this project is more interested in their own agenda than trying to produce the best product possible...

I still think I am right, and all project management books and seminars back me up...[/quote]

As much as I empathize with your experience, I was drawn back to these points.

Might there be legitimate organizational "agendas" the leaders could be following that are broader than this project?

Is the pursuit of "the best possible product" a little extreme when taken in the larger company picture? That is, would a 90% great product that's implemented sooner be a better outcome for the company? Possibly. I don't know.

Senior execs and CEO's sometimes have to settle for what's gonna work, and go for incremental progress on issues. I'm not arguing that's "right" - it's just the other perspective. And your analysis of your experience seems to be very much from your perspective, and might not be taken into account the perspectives and actual goals of leadership.


eschenk's picture


I hear what you are saying, and there is a whole lot more to this story than I told. If I did tell the whole story I would have to write a book--which interestingly enough I have toyed with doing.

A little background: this whole project is rife with corporate political intrigue. One and a half to two years ago the department I work for--one of the information technology departments proposed a new WAN system to connect all our various sites financial, procurement, and inventory systems via an intranet and the internet. The system would have been very costly to design and implement and equally as costly to maintain. The senior executive of my department pushed this idea whole-heartedly, but fortunately the CEO did not go for the idea. However, as a result the senior executive of department fell out of favor with the CEO and other senior executives. In the vacuum that ensued (previously my senior executive was held in very high regard) the senior executive of the third department discussed in the previous post stepped in with a "less expensive solution"--a custom-built system his department had developed under the radar. He told the CEO with a few "tweaks" his system could do everything the one my department was proposing but in half the time, at half the cost, and with no additional staff! In July 2007 he said he could deliver the system by December 2008--eighteen months!

Unfortunately, the senior executive of the third department had no idea what he was talking about. His department's business needs are vastly different than mine or the second department and his department's custom-built solution is not scalable to an enterprise wide system.

Long story short, in December 2007 my team was added (five people) as well as five people from the second department as the project leadership from the third department began to realize the enormity of the task. So, now there are 15 developers on a project was only supposed to need 5. And, not a single line of code has been written yet. We are still trying to figure out how to merge all the requirements of the three departments together when their business needs are very different.

The project is now going way over budget and time and will ultimately deliver a system that is not nearly as robust and the current system. The users are looking at losing current functionality so that the system can be completed in a relatively shorter period of time. Many core functionalities are being pushed off to "phase 2"--whenever that will happen.

Thus the reason for my trying to influence the development teams to consider the needs of the users.

I know, another long post, but I hope it helps to give some background. I do not justify my actions--I was wrong because I violated the laws of leadership; it will now take me a long time to restore the influence I did have and I may never be able to build a good working relationship with the project leadership. Lesson learned for me.

jhack's picture


What is your motivation for staying around?

You describe having a minor leadership role (scapegoat?) on a doomed project. Your attempt to salvage it backfired on you. Your leader has lost credibility.

What is your career objective, and how do you think you can help the company succeed here?


eschenk's picture

Hi JHack,

good question! I spoke to my immediate manager back in February about the situation and told her I would continue with the project only until the end of the year and then I would be looking for a transfer to another department within the same company. The company I work for is very large (over 2,000 employees at my site in New York) and there are many opportunities in other departments.

My immediate manager is aware of all that is going on and has been affected by much of the political intrigue. Last fall she was picked to succeed a manager of another group in preparation of her being promoted. Then, in December '07 she was basically told she was being re-assigned to this project as the technical lead of the developers. However, by January '08, that changed again and all the developers who reported to her (including me) were re-assigned to the project lead from the third department. As a result my manager has almost no one reporting to her directly now. I know she is very upset and looking for a new job within the company.

Like I said previously, I could write a book about this...except I do not think many people would believe it is true!