Experience with red projects has more value than recovering them—avoiding them is the real objective. This presentation focuses on a number of techniques learned while recovering projects that greatly improve the chances for success. It introduces the concept of a Guidance Team that gets involved with the project at the customer inception stage and follows the project and team through to the project completion.
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.
Again, I was chided for saying there are no Information Technology projects. This time, the excuse was that the company built software. I countered my antagonist by asking if the same group that built their software also maintained the account system, workstations, email, and network. "No, that is a separate group." He was missing that his company's production group was not IT. Information Technology is the support group... and yes, they should not be doing anything that fails to directly affect getting product out the door or reducing costs. Every project's goal must be to deliver to the operational needs of the company—selling product—not to the whims and desires of the IT group. If a project fails to address the needs of the customer (directly or indirectly), then it should never see a penny of funding. This seems such an elementary concept, but it is routinely violated by techno-bigots trying to implement the latest toy or tool.
I sent a note to professional organization's program director the other day asking if their group would be interested in hearing about methods to increase project success. The organization was for a technical group that worked with data transformation—a skill set used in every IT project I have ever been on. The reply came in a prompt, succinct, and sarcastic reply:
"We [sic] you please tell me just how this would ever relate to the members of our group. You obviously do not understand that we are not responsible for running the project."
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.
CIOs have two major responsibilities—keeping IT's lights on (backups, networks, email, etc.) and providing support for business initiatives. Being mediocre at either will make for a short career. Although the respective budgets are normally a 70:30 split, a CIO will be fired in a minute for failing to properly support the 30%. That portion of their budget actually generates the company money. Keeping the lights on is a thankless job. People simply expect networks run, data served, and viruses inoculated. It is expected much as we expect water when turning on the tap. Supporting business initiatives is just as thankless since 60% of projects seem to always be in trouble.
Walking onto any troubled project, guess what I hear? We are spending too much money, we cannot miss the due date, we need everything we are asking for, and it is "their" fault. My job is telling them the bad news—we need more money, we are cutting scope, and the project is still going to be late. Those are the unavoidable facts and the stakeholders need to accept them. Worse than that, I am not going to blame anyone. Blame is counterproductive. So, how does this compare to the situation with the United States Congress? In short, they do not get it. They need an apolitical, outside entity to build the recovery plan—just like we do anytime we are recovering any project.
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.
Change is difficult. Regardless of who you are, it is tough. Recently, I challenged readers of this blog to improve how they tie their shoes. I can confidently wager that a large majority have stayed with their old habits. It takes significant force to reprogram out brains, affect the cultural inertia, and gain acceptance to change, tolerance of occasional mistakes, and, eventually, achieve an organization steeped in transformational principles. Nowhere is it more apparent than when delivering projects that alter the way people perform daily tasks. The reason is that, all too often, the goal is to deliver the project; it is someone else's job to gain adoption.
A project manager's job is to deliver value. Achieving the original schedule, budget, and features is meaningless if the customer does not receive value. As with all simple statements, this much easier said than accomplished. Projects managers must assemble adaptable teams that use flexible, lean methodologies. Arrogantly selling the latest technology or tool is narcissistic. Focus on the customer. Be vigilant at ensuring the information is always available for the customer to reassess the project's value and for the project team to reevaluate their proposal.