Blog: Fixing Problem and High-Risk Projects

Loyalty. I have heard a lot about loyalty lately. It focuses on a company's loyalty to their employees. The current stormy economic condition means layoffs and employees on both sides of the pink slip are unsettled. Albeit, conditions today bare a stronger semblance to a hurricane stalled over the employment sector, while Wall Street seems to be holding its own, when the floodwaters subside both employees and employers will be on more fertile ground. As opposed to straining loyalty to its breaking point, it is only taking on a new form.

Dilbert's Boss' Visionary Leadership, Dilbert © September 9, 1999, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

The two most common project attributes that raise the red flag are cost and timeline problems. Both are easily measured and inextricable intertwined. As the timeline extends, there is a commensurate increase in cost; similarly, as cost goes up (usually from increased scope) the timeline increases. However, time is different. Benjamin Franklin said it best, "You may delay, but time will not." Work can stop work (controlling the burn rate) and extraneous features can be removed (decreasing the required work), but time marches on. We cannot control time. Although intuitively obvious, the concept seems to escape a large number of managers and executives.

Cousin Itt, from the Addams Family

The most common form of outsourcing is to hire resources through a staff augmentation firm. Staff augmentation firms, better known by their less polite nicknames of headhunters or pimps, provide anyone from project managers to developers and testers to fulfill a projects' temporarily needs. These firms match your requirements, based on level of experience in a skill or trade, or talent in dealing in specific situations such as overseas deployments, military contracts, etc., to the people in their database. The challenge remains in getting the correct person, who can ramp-up quickly and integrate into the team.

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.

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.

Every project has its heroes. I am not talking about the pompous grandstanders selfishly getting their fingers into every process in order to gain fame. I am talking about the people that really get the work done. Toiling tirelessly to complete their tasks and move the project forward. Below is a profile of seven of them. I have chosen them because they represent agility, communication, responsiveness, and cooperation. These are the traits discussed in my last article.

No Knuckle Draggers

Walking onto red projects, anyone can see and feel the problems. The bedraggled team wears the pain with their long faces and the slumped shoulders. Knuckle draggers. They are carrying the weight of the world, or at least the project, on their shoulders. How can any project succeed with these demoralized, denigrated, and defeated folks? Their spirits are far from lifted with new project manager's enthusiastic optimism. It only irritates a team wallowing in their misery. Nothing is worse than a chipper cheerleader when you are absorbed in troubles. It is an ugly situation.

Objectivity is paramount. Above all Recovery Managers need to be honest brokers. They must look at every situation (before they become issues) and determine a fair and equitable approach. Allegiance to any party on the project is certain failure. Why? Recovery Managers are mediators in a negotiation process. Only fair and objective treatment of the project team, suppliers and customer will allow the recovery manager to reach an acceptable recovery goal.

In a meeting the other day, one exasperated participant exclaimed, "This isn't part of all the processes I just learned to get my PMP, how am I supposed to run this project?" I bit my tongue and refrained from looking over the top of my glasses and calmly telling him that running a project is a heck of a lot more than a series of check boxes. The poor guy was frustrated and lost. He was truly dumbfounded. His hard-earned certification failed to prepared him for his new assignment.

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?

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