Project Health Checks and Audits
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.
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.
The project team has an obligation to tell leadership or the customer when they think the direction of the project is wrong. However, at some point the team must follow management. They have to trust management has the insight to know what needs to be done. I call this "Finding Religion." People must act on faith believing the direction is best for the company. This is often contrary to data that is in front of the team and indicates another direction.
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?
Cultural issues can be devastating on any project. It is much larger than the obvious language barrier. In fact, since it is so obvious, language is often the smaller issue. It is critical to understand cultural differences and change the management style to accommodate it. Everyone should spend time learning about the different cultures on the project. A few examples help underscore the point.
In daily talks and presentations, I am often asked what the most common reasons are for project failures. I usually turn the question around and ask people what they think. It is a fun exercise and people list a mixture of symptoms and sources. As mentioned in the previous blog, one must drill past the symptoms and get down to the problem itself. It is my firm belief that most project problems are rooted in the people, however people are creatures of habit.
It is common that when I am called into fix a red project to have management assign all of the projects ills to one problem. As of yet, I have to see such a project. There are multitudes of problems deeply embedded in the organization and the project team to make a project truly crimson. Managers look at how the problems manifest themselves, skip diagnoses and assign blame. Prior to getting to the point of calling an outside party, they have tried to fix the issues by attacking these symptoms. This only makes matters worse and the project becomes a deeper shade of red.
"Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other." This quote, delivered by C. P. Snow, is one we should all live by. Mr. Snow was a physicist, a novelist and a bit of philosopher. Technology brings about great benefits that many of our projects rely upon. We are using it right now. However, take pause to reflect on how technology is also our nemesis. It haunts our projects with its false promises and lures us into implementing superfluous functionality.
The other day a friend said that there were three reasons for project failure. I took exception and stated there were two. As I thought about it more, there is only one. People are at the root of all failures, everything else is a symptom. Let’s look at some common reasons.
The project is over constrained. People set the constraints. If they do not understand the project well enough to set the constraints, or listen to the people that are suggesting the constraints, then they are the problem.
The lament echoes time and again, "The CIO should have a seat at the table." The claim continues that business cannot survive without the simplest of technologies. Then they provide evidence as if it would be the final nail in the coffin, "Just the other day, when email was down..." Raising my eyebrows in question, I ask, "So your email was down? For how long?" The question is like a scene from a horror film where the sudden realization is that the casket being completed is... your own. Gaining strategic respect is a long way away for those having trouble maintaining their tactical obligations. If your organization is having difficulty providing basic services, you will never have the privilege of being a partner with the business.