We’ve all seen it: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

This idiom has become synonymous with the idea that, in any organization, the person who complains, bellows, shouts, and stomps their feet the loudest will be first to get attention.

Squeaky-wheel types aren’t necessarily negative or harmful. Some Squeaky Wheels are simply annoying. Some have valid ideas that deserve the attention they seek.

Risks to the Business

Left to run rampant, Squeaky Wheels can indeed be the antithesis to strategic project portfolio management, overpowering equally valuable ideas promoted by more modest executives.

Plus, certain behavioral patterns, often displayed by outspoken members of the organization, can doom even the most promising IT Projects to failure.

Some of the most brilliant business minds are also the most capricious. In their zeal to identify the next big productivity booster, or come up with the next wildly important goal, their attention span falters.

These are the visionaries who are not only able to identify hot trends, but also have the ability to inspire enthusiasm in the ranks and build consensus. At the same time, their instinctual abilities keep them on constant lookout for the next opportunity. And there’s nothing wrong with that, right?

The trouble begins when, once a Squeaky Wheel successfully convinces the organization that their initiative should be adopted, they’re off to a conference someplace, only to return with a new idea.

Suddenly, attention is shifted from the initial undertaking in favor of a bigger, better, more interesting project. The first project gets deprioritized and ultimately becomes destined for failure.

Responsibilities of the Squeaky Wheel

With respect to strategic project portfolio management, this may seem like a disastrous environment, but the truth is that it doesn’t have to be. Harnessing the positive energy of rather vocal individuals can be a strategy for great success.

tweet-graphic-transTweet: “Harness the positive energy of vocal leaders to improve the
chance an #ITproject will succeed” @mpapov http://ctt.ec/R8Ufc+

In order for the Squeaky Wheel to have a positive impact on the project portfolio, they need to put some skin in the game:

  • Commit to the success of the initiative
  • Allocate effective resources—and keep them there
  • Identify and remove roadblocks
  • Participate in governance of the initiative

It’s no accident that the visionaries in an organization are also its leaders. And it’s no wonder that leadership is constantly pushing for increased organizational agility and adaptability.

An environment where Squeaky Wheels have influence doesn’t require cultural revolution. It simply requires responsibility, commitment, and willingness for business leaders to take ownership of IT initiatives and see them through.

Strong Portfolio Management

The reality is that internal politics aren’t about to vaporize in the interest of the greater good, or even the bottom line. Each department has their own rapidly evolving IT requirements that impact both their individual success, and the success of the whole organization.

And while some Squeaky Wheels might make IT the scapegoat for the shortcomings and issues of the business, it’s important to remember that tight alignment of business goals and IT capabilities is the holy grail.

Managing Squeaky Wheels can be tricky. The challenge for organizations with these passionate advocates lies in its ability to honestly and realistically assess, in black and white, their project portfolio.

Development and continuous improvement of a strategically-aligned IT project portfolio means IT and the business are mutually responsible for the outcome, regardless of which wheel is calling for some grease.