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The Project Assassin - Why Murder a Project?

A little history

Project Assassins are driven by a wide variety of motives. It is widely believed that Assassins in the 12th century were driven by their political and religious aims, but their lack of discrimination in killing both Muslims and Crusaders suggests this is incorrect. That their "diet" ("Assassin" is from the Arabic for "hashish eater") may have caused their confusion sounds somewhat far-fetched to any who lived through the '60s and given the subsequent development of the profession, monetary inducements seem a far more likely cause of their behaviour. Unfortunately, Project Assassins are not like their counterparts in "other sectors" where financial motives predominate. Recruits give a whole variety of reasons.

Job and popularity preservation

Strangely, some enter the profession because they are squeamish about the effects of projects on people. The idea that a successful project may result in any of the euphemisms for redundancy is somehow unpalatable to them. Where the "headcount reduction" or "rationalisation" involves them personally, their motivation is far easier to understand.

People do not like change, so those responsible for it are rarely popular. Those who need popularity may be driven to maintain it at any cost and become useful recruits.

Power and performance

Many are driven by loss of financial power from budgets being reduced; loss of staff empire from similar reductions in headcount; loss of reputation as expertise and experience are replaced or made irrelevant; or loss of status resulting from organisational change.

Performance itself is rarely a motive for the Project Assassin. By contrast, covering up for a lack of performance is one of the commonest drivers. This is particularly true where such a deficiency stretches back over a number of years and is likely to be exposed by new ways of working, new systems, etc.

Accountability and blame

Towards the end of a project, the avoidance of accountability becomes a strong driver. Suddenly those comfortable working on a project may find themselves accountable for its outcomes. If "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" then "the pudding" is better remaining on the plate uneaten. Evidence for this can be found in carefully filed reports, unimplemented software and unused buildings.

Closely related is blame - someone else should to take it. Unfortunately, when projects complete, the number of options for transferring blame reduces dramatically. As in a game of Musical Chairs, there is value in keeping the music playing at least until you have found a comfortable seat, preferably in another room.


Finally, we must admit that altruism may play its part. Some are persuaded to become Project Assassins by a belief that it is their duty to seek the good of their organisation. Such unpleasant truth must be faced, not only because this may make them useful accomplices but also because their motivation may make them fickle. They lack the single-mindedness produced by the purer motives and may be persuaded that a project is "salvageable" at extremely inconvenient moments.