Education is the First Step in Reducing Project Failure
I need your help. Why is it that as we get older, so many of us lose the desire to learn? Where is the fun in that? A few years ago, I was nearly sucked into it myself—at least for a few minutes. A half-dozen of us were sitting in a coffee shop talking about growing our businesses and conversation turned to Twitter—about its uselessness. As I drove back to my office, I thought, "The six of us ought to go tell the twenty million people using Twitter how foolish they are." With that utterance, I realized how I had been drug into the world of stasis. I spent the subsequent three days immersed in social media, studying Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and numerous other social tools. Now I am perplexed on how to get others to see the value. Let me fill you in on what I have learned about teaching people, maybe you can point out my flaw.
Information Technology organizations continually struggle to build systems that meet their customer's needs. They work tirelessly developing solutions that are delivered late, difficult to use, or deficient in key features and functions. This is nothing specific to the last couple decades; it stretches back to the first systems developed. Fredrick Brookes eloquently underscores this in his recount of the 1960's software engineering project to develop the IBM 360 in his book The Mythical Man-Month (1975) and is required reading for all IT executives. For the Chief Information Officer to solve this problem takes a new approach, one, nearly opposite from today's direction.
People, who know me, are aware I am less than enamored of certifications and titles. Therefore, when I got my PMP many were taken aback, some laughed aloud, and, since I seemed to get it overnight, all asked why and how I got it. However, it is not just my situation, this is a perennial question in online forums and groups and it is a common topic at local project management meetings. In many of those discussions, people try to analogize the PMP to a CPA or MBA; without question, the requirements to get a PMP have none of the independent educational rigor of college level degrees. The PMP's worth is visceral and personal—it depends on each individual's goals and their project management experience.
New plans require change. Change is difficult. Employees, contractors, vendors, and even customers need to change how they work to adapt to your new plans. What is in it for them? Attempting to implement new plans without reinforcing the goals, reasons, and benefits to each stakeholder will result in people reverting back to their old ways. To help people assimilate change and truly move forward, we provide a series of seminars and workshops that address improving change adoption. Our unique Visualizing Change workshops not only help you understand the problems at hand, but also teach you effective techniques for addressing the motivations of all parties involved, so that you will successfully implement lasting change.
Estimates are a pain in the... er... butt. Everyone hates doing them. The reason? They are always wrong. They are either too optimistic, when we think we know more than we do, or they are overly padded, trying to account for the unexpected. Other times it is much more subconscious. Some little voice in the back of our heads is working on our conscience to change the perception of the work required. We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to creating estimates and do even more harm when we go to work the task. For now, let us look at a couple factors that influence how we determine the length of time it takes to do simple tasks and save the effects of that estimate for another article. With a little audience cooperation, we will produce a fun answer from a simple mental exercise.
The costs of failing projects are huge. Roger Sessions estimates the cost in the US alone to be $1 trillion annually. The impact, though, goes beyond monetary; it includes reputation, the organization's morale, consumption of resources, and missed opportunity by postponing other projects. Fortunately, there are also many unrealized benefits to glean from troubled projects. To reap those rewards, companies must adopt a culture to exploit failure and learn from it. More often than not, people just want to get the project behind them.
After being a project manager for a couple decades, the Procedure Police finally caught up with me and I had to get my PMP®. No, not for a job, for marketing. My publisher's marketing department made a PMP a requirement for publishing my new book. My wife was aghast that after teaching courses to PMPs so they could get their educational credits and recovering multiple projects that PMPs had led down the red road to failure, that I would have to go through any process to get this certificate. In her mind, my record of accomplishment should have stood for itself. I realized the bureaucracy of the whole affair and trudged forward.
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.
Have you ever had a boss that simply wants to stand in your way? They avoid making even the smallest decision, never providing enough information to understand their objections. It is more common than most of us would imagine. In fact, this behavior is the central to every sales interaction. Even though you may be repulsed at thinking of yourself as "selling" to your boss, that is exactly what is required with any idea you are pushing. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to employ the same techniques used to sell large systems. If you think this is rubbish, as one of my esteemed readers once eloquently said, I will posit that you are already using sales techniques, just the wrong ones—the ones car dealers use. Changing this approach will subdue your unruly boss
Whether you are a project or a functional manager, estimates are a daily part of your life. Team members need to make estimates for a variety of reasons, these include:
- The amount of time for a task.
- The cost for resources.
- The cost of software, hardware and other materials.
- The time required to finish a task.