New Post at AITS: Managing Transitions Between Outsourcing Vendors

My latest article for AITS was published today: Managing Transitions Between Outsourcing Vendors.

An experienced project manager is used to leveraging influence in the absence of direct authority. What most of us are not used to is influencing people who are about to lose their jobs, when we want them to work with their replacements. It isn’t just about the need for emotional intelligence, but the need to preserve the dignity of the employees of the departing incumbent. If you have comments on this topic, please leave a comment at AITS. If you have suggestions for future topics, please leave a comment here.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read my stuff.

New PM Articles for the Week of March 20 – 26

New project management articles published on the web during the week of March 20 – 26. And this week’s video: Art Petty tells how to start each day by preparing your attitude. Less than three minutes, safe for work.

Must read (or Hear)!

  • Max Ogles interviews Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken and Superbetter, on the future of habit-forming technology.
  • Ned Johnson thinks the model of the project manager as project CEO might be the reason so many projects become death marches.
  • Darragh Broderick performs a failure analysis on three of the worst decisions of the 20th

Established Methods

  • Pat Weaver makes the point that your project controls—tailored to your delivery strategy—must be both useful and maintainable.
  • Michelle MacAdam tells how to assess whether your project or program is ready to deliver the benefits it was launched to capture.
  • Mike Clayton explains the project checklist in just under three minutes. Safe for work, of course.
  • Dmitriy Nizhebetskiy talks us through the steps in identifying project stakeholders. Just over two minutes, safe for work.
  • Glen Alleman clarifies the math underlying a commonly quoted quality rubric for software project estimates.
  • Jenn Livingston describes the key elements of successfully outsourcing software development.
  • Keith Foote provides a “Cliff’s Notes” history of database management for those who wonder what some of those acronyms mean.

Agile Methods

  • Stefan Wolpers curates his weekly list of Agile content, including Scrum, Lean, risk-taking and experimentation, and even the Seven Day weekend.
  • The Clever PM explains why we need to measure what matters—just say no to vanity metrics.
  • Peter Borsella and Hubert Smits identify the mix of skills needed by cross-functional teams when producing hardware products.
  • Johanna Rothman concludes her series on becoming an Agile Leader.
  • Tamás Török extracts some stunning statistics from The State of Software Development 2017, Startup Edition. Not your corporate software development experience.
  • Mike Cohn introduces yet another installment of his free training videos: this one is on adding just the right amount of detail to user stories.
  • Ryan Ripley interviews author Geoff Watts on his new book, Product Mastery. Just 47 minutes, safe for work.

Applied Leadership

  • Harry Hall makes a case for the caring leader.
  • Alankar Karpe explains why ethics is more important than ever and how to foster an ethical culture in your organization.
  • Henny Portman reviews The Agility Shift: Create Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams, and Organizations.
  • John Goodpasture reflects on a hard question: in your domain, who can say “yes” and make it stick?
  • Gina Abudi continues her case study on getting buy-in for a large project.

Working and the Workplace

  • Michelle Symonds explains a coming development in the UK: a project management apprentice scheme.
  • Alison DeNisco reports on a survey of more than 1,400 US tech workers—48% said that the 2016 election made them care more about diversity and inclusion.
  • Rob England rants about Hot Desks and the dehumanizing policies that remove our team identity and sense of place. We should not be arriving at work early just to get a good seat.


Does a Project Manager Have a Fiduciary Duty?

At Musings on Project Management, John Goodpasture recently posted his reflections on whether the project manager is a fiduciary. He asks the rhetorical questions, “At some point, some ox is going to get gored. And then who blames the fiduciary? And to what risk is the fiduciary held?”

It’s an interesting question, and it seems the answer, like most questions rooted in law, depends on jurisdiction. Note that this is not legal advice and I am not an attorney—I’m just some guy with a little knowledge of employment practices in a few countries. An actual labor attorney could fill at least ten pages with critical comments on the next few paragraphs before pausing to refill her coffee cup. That caveat aside here is my response.


In the US, every state but Montana has adopted the doctrine of employment at will. In other words: an employee can be terminated at any time, for any reason—with a few exceptions spelled out by law. That uniquely American principle aside, all employees, including at-will employees, are subject to the law of agency—they are agents of their employers. As such, they are subject to the general fiduciary principle, which centers on loyalty: the employee will not compete with their employer, solicit the employer’s customers, clients or employees prior to the leaving the company, use work time to further the employee’s own interests, or misappropriate confidential information or trade secrets of the employer by sharing that information with the new employers. There is also a duty to account for profits and to deal fairly with his or her employer in all transactions between them. Finally, there is usually a duty to disclose the existence of conflicts or adverse information to the employer, even if the employer is not harmed by the undisclosed adverse interest or information.

Donald TrumpNote that this fiduciary relationship is between employer and employee, rather than between subordinate and manager. Also, note that the duties constrain the actions of the fiduciary; they do not contemplate outcomes. While you can certainly be terminated in the general outrage over the impact a project might have on some power center of your company, that possibility arises from at-will employment, rather than the fiduciary duty. In other words: they can fire you, but they can’t sue you to recover damages.


In the UK, the terms of employment are governed by contract, whether explicit or implicit. In the event of a dispute where no contract document exists, the courts will decide what the terms of the contract are by reviewing the Employment Statement and other supporting relevant material. While you can be dismissed at any time, the employer must show that they have a justifiable, valid reason and that they acted reasonably, given the circumstances.

Under UK common law, the officers and directors of a company have a fiduciary duty to the corporation, while the employees generally do not. In the recent UK case of Ransom v Customer Systems Plc, the Court of Appeal found that the employee’s contract did not create duties equivalent to the loyalty required of a fiduciary.  In an ordinary employment contract, the employee and employer must have regard to each other’s interests, whereas employees are not required to subjugate their own interests, as is required of a director. Bottom line: you’re not a fiduciary and they can’t collect damages, and although you can be fired for a lot of reasons, most HR departments will overrule firing a PM simply because some senior person is pissed off.

Other Jurisdictions

The situation in Canada is similar to the UK, in that there is no employment at will and employment agreements prevail. While courts have found both employers and employee in violation of agency fiduciary obligations, in practice this has mostly been limited to self-dealing, soliciting former clients, and misusing proprietary information. While you can be terminated for misconduct, termination without cause generally requires notice and severance pay. So while you might be fired for pissing off some senior person, you’ll get a lovely parting gift. Australia and New Zealand are a bit more complex in terms of terminations, agency fiduciary obligations, and possible recovery of damages, but are generally similar to Canada, even though your parting gift will likely be capped.

In most non-English speaking jurisdictions, contracts are mandatory and employment is generally based on paternalistic principles. It would be shocking for someone to be fired for pissing off some senior person in the course of doing their job—no court would look kindly on the “because he pissed me off, that’s why” defense.

In closing: while you might be summarily fired in The Land of Trump, as you get further away, the risk diminishes considerably.