Monday, 09 November 2009 00:00

When Even The Punt Fails

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Mega Screen Projects can be on-time, within budget, meet the specifications and still be a failure. Case in point, the new Dallas 160x72 foot mega screen. It seems the screen displays what it should, but is positioned a bit too low. So low, that on August 21st, the punter kicked a ball into it. Did someone forget the purpose of the stadium was playing football?

Successful Projects Deliver Value

Delivering within the normal bounds is often insufficient. If it takes 15% more time or money to make a useful and valuable product, it should not be classified as a failure.

This year, the Standish Group, in its well-known annual CHAOS Report, states:

[R]esults show a decrease in project success rates, with 32% of all projects succeeding (delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions); 44% were challenged (late, over budget, and/or with less than the required features and functions); and 24% failed (cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used).

However, value is missing from their qualifiers. "Late, over budget" is not necessarily a designation of failure or even challenged. "Less than the required features and functions," might mean failure, given these features provide value. Delivering features and functions that fail to provide value wastes time and money. Removing these features may bring the project back to its budgeted parameters.

It is critical that all parties achieve value in the project; otherwise, the project is doomed. One party failing to achieve their value will continue to pull the project in a direction to gain value, inevitably lowering the other party's value. For instance, for a product with improper scope, the customer will push for different features lowering the supplier's profit. The supplier with too little margin, will cut corners on scope or quality to reduce their cost and chew into the customer's value. It becomes an adversarial spiral toward failure.

The Project Manager's Responsibility

The project manager must question the value throughout the project's lifecycle. To do this effectively, the project structure must expose the value, or lack thereof, as early as possible. The customer should be able to get access to the product as soon as possible. Prototypes, mockups and demos can provide an ability to punch buttons, simulate workflow or visualize its placement. This helps uncover misconceptions in the product and allow early cost-effective change. Many project methodologies do not readily accommodate this, hence the project manager needs to lobby for the change.

The Culture

In most organizations, this is a foreign concept—the methodology and justification are givens at the project's start. Not only that, but project managers are rewarded for decreasing cost, minimizing changes and running and uneventful project. Questioning the project's premise is often considered insubordinate. Agile projects break this mold by empowering the team to ask these questions and ensure there is value. Other methodologies can do the same.

About That Screen...

Knowing nothing of the Cowboys' culture, or their owner Jerry Jones, I have to think there might a slight issue of pointing out problems. It took the NFL to have the manufacture's ad moved from below the screen, a direct result of Mr. Trapasso's punt. Someone may have said there was a problem, but judging from Mr. Jone's comments he appears to think it is the punter's problem. I would wager a guess the problem is somewhere else.

To adapt to this method of management, the project manager must understand the value for both parties and continually question the project's premise. This requires understanding the customer's and supplier's goals as well as the delivery team's capabilities. A mismatch in any area will result in dismal results. The project manager must attain and maintain the value throughout the project, being an honest broker for all parties. Status quo may by a course to failure. Every change request steers the project closer to or further from success. If value appears elusive or unattainable, it is better for the project to fail early. A project manager shows leadership by highlighting these issues.

Obviously, Mr. Jones really felt being in the Guinness book of world records was more valuable than the occasional replay.

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