There are 350 references to the word “control” in the main section of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).


That is almost one reference for every other page, and I didn’t even bother counting the appendices!

Guess how many times the word “trust” is used…



For a profession that is fundamentally about managing uncertainty and risk, why has the focus on control been so prevalent for so long? Especially when our project sponsors and stakeholders ultimately trust us to deliver!

Why isn’t building trust a more significant conversation?

It is really, really, REALLY bugging me!

The difference between control and trust

The challenge with projects is that when you are uncertain or feel at risk, you look to establish control in an attempt to build confidence.

You try and control the rollercoaster.

Trust, on the other hand, is what helps you navigate the unexpected twists and turns of the rollercoaster.

“Trust helps you work through uncertainty and feel under control.

Control helps you know what to expect, but doesn’t solve uncertainty” 

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Trust helps you deal with the unexpected
    • A re-plan impacting your schedule, cost or scope
    • Issues that arise unexpectedly
    • Stakeholder politics[dt_gap height=”10″ /]
  • Control helps you know what to expect
    • A baselined schedule
    • Your cost forecast
    • A change request process

Importantly the first list is where the real challenge and complexity exists on projects; this is what trust is needed for!  A baselined schedule is only useful until something unexpected happens, then the control is useless without the trusted relationships in place to deal with it.

Why our focus on control is all wrong

  1. Sponsors focus on managing control over uncertainty – for example; they focus on whether you have a baseline schedule, not the risk that remains in it.
  2. PMO’s try and control the controls rather than adding value – rather than being the project control police PMO’s should be working with the PM and sponsor to build stakeholder trust in the project.
  3. Teams spend more time navigating controls instead of delivering – delayed project decisions thanks to a process are not acceptable in 2018. Authority needs to support speed and autonomy, work on the principle that teams won’t scupper their project!
  4. Executives and stakeholders think the project is “under control” and disengage – keeping a project “under control” is a daily challenge. Executives need to understand that the rollercoaster is more likely to get to the end if they stay on it!
  5. Recipients feel like the project is controlling the outcome rather than letting them own it – projects need to work with the recipients and encourage them to own the project outcome. If their needs change the project needs to listen and trust that the outcome is the right one[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” 

– Stephen R Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

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