Many of us have seen the Hollywood depiction of a plan spinning down out of the sky, with engine screaming towards a gruesome end for the hapless pilot. Early aviators did not understand that a spin is a stable form of flight, requiring specific actions to successfully recover, so a spin often led to a crash. A spin is a form of dysfunctional momentum (DM).
Projects can also experience DM, and the project leader must look out for the symptoms and learn that specific actions are needed to recover the situation. The most typical cause of DM is lack of clarity. For example, if an understanding of the strategic purpose of the project has not been cemented with all stakeholders, then their perceptions of why the project is being undertaken are likely to be different. In the same area, if stakeholders are not clear about their role in the project – for example where they confuse organisational benefits with departmental or local team benefits – then DM can creep into the project.
The key symptom for the project leader to recognise is when a particular issue is raised, then dealt with, and then raised again, possibly in different areas of the organisation. When this happens, the project leader must take action, firstly to identify the cause, then to make the necessary change. This takes energy, just like the pilot in a spin, who has to put power to idle, ailerons to neutral, rudder pushed opposite to the spin and held, and elevator through neutral. Only then will the aircraft recover from a state of dysfunctional momentum. How is your project doing?