Project Governance and Definition
People routinely ask me the question, "What do you do when you find yourself on a project that is a hopeless failure?" It was raised again a few weeks ago in a Focus.com roundtable and then last week in an interview with Andy Kaufman. It only matters if the executives above the project are ignorant to how dire the situation is. It is tricky, trying to convince someone that they have a problem when they refuse to acknowledge the obvious—a tough and politically dangerous sell. The general consensus is "dust of the résumé." However, there is a logical approach to the problem—be logical.
Many organizations have only one methodology for running projects. However, nearly all organizations perform a variety of projects—deploying hardware, developing new products, changing internal processes, and running custom projects for customers. Some methodologies are much better for specific styles of projects. Therefore, organizations need a portfolio of processes that matches their portfolio of projects and their culture. Phasing, critical chain, agile all have valuable attributes that can be applied in specific areas.
The fate of a project is often sealed long before the first person is assigned or charters, contracts, or SOWs are written. Experience with auditing dozens of projects and doing root cause analysis projects has shown that corporate decisions, not project decisions, have a very larger effect. This presentation, designed for executives, PMO managers, and senior project managers, focuses on a number of techniques learned while recovering projects that greatly improve the chances for success. It introduces the concept of guidance teams that get involved with the project at the customer inception stage and follows the project and team through to its completion.
"Why is it that when you get hired you are no longer the expert?" A chuckle rippled through the audience; however, the woman asking the question was serious. I turned the question back to the audience of director level managers, "Why is this the case?" There was silence. Finally, I proffered that it was management's lack of understanding the skills of the people working for them. "Who in your organization can you implicitly trust?" More silence. It is sad that organizations know so little about the people that they hired—the people on which they stake their company's future.
In many years of recovering failing projects, I have found a few management actions whose rationale seem completely absurd. Regardless of my efforts, I am unable to understand or dissuade them from their decisions. These decisions either precipitate the failure or greatly exacerbate the project's dilemma. Regardless, due to management's level of shear desperation, they can only be classified as stupid decisions. If there were the Darwin awards for management, these would qualify.
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.
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.
It is amazing how people on failing projects neglect to look at their own issues prior to blaming someone else. Yes, blame is easy and on red projects since no wants to be the source of the issues. The truth is, everyone is at blame, so before bringing in an auditor or recovery manager, tidy up your house first.
Reading an article the other day, the author was lamenting on how Project Managers were under educated and needed to know more about earned values analysis, risk probability determination, finite schedule development and other tools that make a Project Manager great. She was arguing that certifications, like PMI's PMP® certification, needed to have more testing on those subjects.
Months ago, maybe over a year, now, I was blasted for talking about innovation in the context of information technology (IT) projects. The gist of the complaint was that all IT folks think they are building some new groundbreaking, revolutionary application that requires the latest in technology's tools. I agreed with his argument, qualifying that although this seems to be a pervasive theme, IT is a discipline that needs to keep one-foot in the pioneering frontier. Regardless, I had to concede that many innovative initiatives are more about a technician playing with some new toy. Jobs like implementing ERP interfaces to manufacturing execution systems (MES) only sound new. Unfortunately, I must say, "been there done that." Most IT is neither new of innovative. To avoid squandering funds, executives must understand and direct what needs to be innovative and permeate the company's culture with that knowledge. Otherwise, the wasted time and expense will suck a company dry.