IT projects: fear is everywhere

Several months ago I gave a training on emotional intelligence to a group of professional business analysts and testers. That was a very nice experience. For a lot of reasons. The setting was very nice to start with, and they were smart and experienced. There were also a lot of constructive interactions. But what I found most interesting was to try and open up smart people to the marvellous world of emotions, and to demonstrate how this was important to their daily job. Not sure I managed it fully though, but sure I initiated the thinking.

At the end of the training, we tried to map emotions and the standard phases of an IT project (regular waterfall approach, the point was not project management).

We came up with such a table, featuring basic emotions and phases.

CGB blog post fear

Nothing spectacular yet. We circulated an empty table to every participant with the instruction to evaluate, for his or her experience, what emotion was strongly felt during each phase. I collected the tables after some thinking time, and aggregated the replies.

What struck me was the number of people who had felt fear at various phases. It was really like the dominant emotion felt by project participants was FEAR.


This kept me busy for a number of months. I kept on interviewing business analysts, other project fellows, and the same conclusion was always coming back. Of course there’s sometimes anger and surprise, and the biggest joy of all when the death march is done and project is delivered… but still fear was there. Everybody mentioned it at some point.

Needless to say that few project managers are sensitive or trained to managing fear. Neither is the slightest mention made of fear and anger in Prince2 or the Pmbok… while every project manager in the world face them on a daily basis. I’m wondering how much time it will take for a training dedicated to emotional intelligence for project managers will appear.

So I kept stuck with that concern and no way of solving it. I was indeed giving a training on emotional intelligence myself, but not going further than giving scientific background, naming emotions, communicating them and showing empathy. (Which is way beyond regular IT project member skills, so it certainly remains useful). But that was no fix to fear…

And then the light came out of a beautiful Tweet by @gregnazvanov

(We let aside the procrastination for the time being.) So gratitude would be the antidote to fear then… How strange, how new this was to me… Something new to learn as it seemed. Pushed by curiosity, I spent the evening googling and finally found some actionable advice on Philosiblog.

In order to feel the true link between gratitude and fear, let’s follow the author and try this:

Think about something scary or unknown, something that makes you at least a little apprehensive, if not fearful. It doesn’t have to be ‘hide under the covers’ scary, just something uncomfortable. Now go back to being grateful for a few moments. What happened to the fear? Is yours the same? Mine was diminished

I tried it too. And that worked for even when my gratefulness was directed to something completely different.

Some explanations are useful.

While gratitude won’t remove risk, it can help us to see that there is something useful, even beneficial, to any outcome. Rather than fearing action, we can begin to embrace it. And in that embrace, we begin to start moving, and once again, we can take action.

If you think that point is not very rational, well I have to say you’re rather right. It’s another type of reasoning. If that’s an excuse for you not to try, that’s rather disappointing. You can try it and not tell anybody :-)

And a last piece, wich insists on how important it is to try it in real life.

It is important because it’s one thing for me to say it, but another thing entirely for you to have experienced it. That makes it a bit more real, and vastly more believable. If you can’t find an instance in your past, promise yourself to try this the next time you find yourself fearful or angry.

I have to say I am very grateful to the people who contributed to get this window open in me, and I’m looking forward to putting it into practice.

Are you?

I wish you a beautiful day.


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