Blog: Fixing Problem and High-Risk Projects

The Pointed-Haired Bosses Concept of Agile

Full implementation of agile project management requires a top-down approach. The differences in reporting, resource dedication, team structure, and customer relationship from traditional project management methodology requires buy-in at the highest level of the company. Educating superiors and customers on the benefits of agile project management is difficult, especially if they have a religious belief in classical project management style. Implementing a pilot project is the best way to quell their fears. Unfortunately, in a recovery this luxury is unavailable—the turn-around becomes the pilot.

Maintenance does not belong in projects. Combining the two violates the definition of a project, mixes deliverables with opposing triple constraints, and sets the stage for scope creep. Maintenance needs to be performed by a dedicated group that can quickly implement changes. Project teams should focus on completing enhancements that will provide additional value to the customer.

Negotiation is at the heart of every recovery. Once the problems are determined, you must get everyone to concur on the solution. Achieving agreement, however, is inextricably bound to culture—from Asia's polite bows and constant "yeses," to the fist pounding demands of the Middle East. The distinction hit me in back-to-back projects. Culture shock abound. Little did I know, I would find solace and guidance in a favorite Monty Python flick.

TweetJam Picture

Last Monday Mitch Lieberman invited me to a TweetJam on ITSuccess. My first reaction was, "What the heck is a TweetJam?" Google was of no help. All I could tell was that two of most prominent authorities on IT project failure were at the center of the meeting—Mike Krigsman and Phil Simon. The invitation was an honor. The result was summed up in my closing tweet, "@mjayliebs, that's one of the fastest hours I have spent in my life. Thank you very much for the idea and the invitation." It was one of the most educational and exciting events I have seen in years.

From years of experience in recovering red projects, I estimate that only a third of all problems that affect red projects are actually on the project; the other two-thirds are in the surrounding organizations. Poor policies and procedures or lack of commitment by the customer, vendor, integrator, or organization overshadows problems on the project. Unfortunately, project managers do not have the authority, or even the influence, to address these issues. Their only course of action to complete the project successfully is to band-aid the problem. This must change if companies are going to quickly and accurately implement business initiatives.

Check list picture

For years, project failure rates have been ridiculous. Various groups have published statistics showing troubled or failing project rates range from forty to eighty percent. People have asked time and again the primary reason for project failure and I repeat the same list so many have already stated—poor management, inadequate understanding of the goals, miserable communication, the list continues. However, I have discovered one problem common to every project I have recovered that I think is core to many of these generic observations.

Dallas Building Inspection Process

A couple Friday's ago, I was in a meeting and I reiterated my mantra, "Process stifles creativity." A friend, well, I think she still is, nearly jumped out of her chair. "I need to correct you," she barked, "Only poorly implemented process stifle creativity." The suddenness and passion in her response caused the gentleman sitting between us to slide his chair back quickly in order to avoid being tangled in any physical altercation. The room was full of jeers for us to settle the dispute in the parking lot. Realizing I had just stepped in a hornet's nest, I made a joke of it. However, her attack does not dissuade me.

The Little Engine that Could

Or... I Think I Can

I have a book that sits in the bookshelf behind my desk and has been there for as long as I have had a desk—The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper. I have read it numerous times to each of my children and soon to my granddaughter, Kennedy. Each time I open it, the smell takes me back to my Dad's lap and a time when life was much easier. A time when my vocabulary was devoid of the word project. I am not sure if there is a direct connection between that word and life's simplicity, it is probably just an coincidence.

Trust

The first ingredient in recovering any project is trust. The team must trust the recovery manager, the customer must trust the supplier, team members must trust each other, and so on, until all permutations are exhausted. Without trust, all is for naught. Therefore, to have a successful recovery, or project for that matter, it is a requirement to thoroughly understand trust and how to foster it.

Most projects do not fail for the problems on the project; they fail for the problems in the organizations associated with them. Even issues within the project are usually personnel related requiring the project manager to do more counseling than managing. So where does the project manager get these skills? Unfortunately, they come from experience; few come from formal training. Instead, project managers get training on process, which, as can be seen in many of my articles, is misguided. Project managers need to spend more time developing the organizations, making them stronger. Without doing extensive organization development, projects will continue to fail.

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