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Posts Tagged ‘project failure’

Project Management with Ten Elephants in the room

Posted by Ammar Mango on August 18, 2014

download“So should we start with a meeting to review project charter, or shall we wait until the scope statement is more clearly defined?” asks the Project Manager in a typical give and take that takes place at the beginning of a project.  Realty is that, most probably, it does not matter.  Or at least it does not matter as much as other so important issues that need to be addressed, but are ignored.  These are the elephants in the room that get ignored at the beginning of every project.  These issues are so big and obvious, but maybe because of their sheer size, project managers, clients, and suppliers,  prefer to ignore them as if they do not exist.  Guess what: They do exist and they are the biggest challenges facing the project, and lead often to project failure.

The elephants in the room are all man-made.  They are all about people.  This is another reason why they get ignored.  Most of them are caused by project influencers that no one wants to alienate.  This results in sacrificing project value to address other factors like “looking good,”
preserving status, gaining favors, or being comfortable in complacency.  Here are the top ten elephants that are places in the room on new projects, and get ignored by project stakeholders:

Elephant #10-Pick a big name: A project supplier is chosen because they have a good name, regardless of whether another supplier has more relevant experience.

Elephant #9- Cutting Corners: Trying to avoid risk, by taking shortcuts and downplaying key parts of the work, just to finish work on time and get payments

Elephant #8- Bureaucracy First: Worrying about deliverables and documentation, instead of results and value.

Elephant #7- Dangerous Leverage:  Assigning juniors the work of seniors to save on project cost, then use politics and sales savvy to get acceptance

Elephant #6- Fancy software and shiny hardware: More attention is given to purchasing brand name software and hardware instead of focusing on improving performance, change management, and learning.

Elephant #5- To Accept or Reject is merely a question:  Trying to control project when no one internally has the ability to review completed work.  Sometimes external consultants are hired to review the work but they also do not have as deep knowledge as the supplier, and they end up limiting the supplier’s ability to deliver value, instead of assuring quality.

Elephant #4- Spending the Budget: Clients who are not sure what they want but have a budget that they must spend, and need to show quick wins for spending the budget.  This results on tactical improvements being worked on instead of strategic improvements.

Elephant #3- The Hat does not fit: Roles and responsibilities on the project are distributed politically instead of technically.

Elephant #2- “Whatever”: Lack of interest in the project, especially when undertaken due to an external mandate.

Elephant #1- The Political Game: Project is lost in internal struggles where its value is judged based on who sponsored the project, not the actual value it delivers.




Posted in The PMO, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Thirty One Ingredients of Failed Projects

Posted by Ammar Mango on March 24, 2013

Failed projects have a lot in common.  Here are the things I most commonly find in failed projects, the lower the number the higher the impact:

31. Focusing on the mechanical part of planning (critical path calculations, the schedule model, etc)

30. Ignoring proper definition of “project success” and “project and product quality” by all involved

29. Making promises you cannot keep

28. Lying

27. Thinking you are smarter than everybody else

26. Dealing with the client as an inconvenience

25. Focusing on finishing the project (instead of providing value to the client)

24. Not reading every single project related document (especially business and high level technical)

23. Being oblivious to project developments

22. Disconnect between project manager and client

21. Disconnect between project manager and sponsor

20. Uncommitted client

19. Uncommitted sponsor

18. Uncommitted team

17. Trying to win popularity contests instead of holding everyone accountable

16. Ignoring subtle and not so subtle messages from stakeholders especially client

15. Avoiding the client and how satisfied they are of your work personally and the project

14. Getting stuck in busy work and ignoring big picture (like an ostrich sticking head in sand)

13. Being afraid to say no

12. Ignoring the contract and project documents

11. Rough attitude (thinking that by being cruel people will fear you and do what you want)

10. Soft attitude (unable or afraid to reprimand)

9. Hiding in your cubicle

8. Taking progress reports as accurate (without double checking)

7. Victim mentality, refusing to take responsibility for mistakes and errors

6. Blame game, blaming others and not standing up to your part

5. Hogging credit, and not giving credit to the team and other stakeholders.

4. Mistrust others

3. Assuming you can win alone, and let client and suppliers and team lose

2. Quitting early; assuming there is nothing you can do and letting the project go south

1. Fear of failure; you will never get anything meaningful done

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How to tell if a project is in trouble: Part II the quick casual way

Posted by Ammar Mango on March 16, 2013

When it comes to analyzing the health of a project, there is a structured way, and a quick casual way.  You always want to go with a structured approach.  However, that is not always possible.  Then you have to go with a casual quick way to get you the indications you need about the health of the project.

In Part I: I already discussed the structured way of checking on a project.  In this part (Part II) I will focus on the casual quick way, when you do not have access to enough data and information to go on.  Luckily there are always tell-tale signs that something is wrong on the project.  Here are a few of these signs.

– If the project manager and or team members are always too busy to talk to anyone.  This is a sign of not wanting to face reality. When the project manager and  / or team members “hide in a cave” refusing to talk to anyone and getting irritated by requests for updates, the project is for sure in trouble.

– When the delivery is late and everybody is saying that we are “almost done” and it is a matter of a few days.  Usually the next line is “SURPRISE: we cannot deliver.”  Sometimes the line does not come from the project manager.  He goes  on a surprise vacation and stops answering phone calls.

– If blame game is taking priority over real progress.  This is where everyone is trying to document and create evidence that they have done their part on the project and it is someone else’s fault that things are not going well.  Sometimes this is done through emails with unclear meaning or goal, but somewhere in there is a line that will be used to prove that ” I already told you that in my email.” Sometimes these emails are started in a very tame neutral voice to hide the “bombs” hidden somewhere in the middle of the email, in the longest paragraph that most will not read.

– If the project plan is based on optimistic estimates that were given by managers who fix the estimates to match the needed deadline, without any attention to reality.  Team buy-in is lost on these estimates, but the team do not say anything for fear of retaliation from management, so they keep their head down and work, knowing they cannot meet the deadline.

– When there is no such thing as a “project team.” Different employees from different departments are working on tasks that have no integration.  It is just a task on some project and when it is done there will be another task on another project.  The employees are working in a department, focusing on the operational aspect of what they do.  No team spirit.  No project integration.  The project manager is looked at as the “nagging figure” that annoys us about finishing faster.  The department manager is looked at as the protector who protects us from the project manager and his unrealistic requests.

– If the project manager is not communicating, and project plans, issues and risks are kept in a drawer at his or her desk, instead of communicating with stakeholders.  When project manager avoids the confrontation and emails these issues and risks and assumes he or she did their duty by sending them and it is up to others to respond.  If they do not then it is not the project manager’s problem.

– If projects are used as a political platform to serve agendas like: “this department is not doing its job,” or even worse: “I am indispensable for the organization,” and to prove someone to be wrong. This usually leads to ethics and professionalism becoming lip service, but project stakeholders have no problem lying, hiding the truth, or acting in an unprofessional fashion.

– If management throws the project at the project manager and turns its back assuming that everything is fine, just because they are not hearing from the project manager.  They follow the wrong rule of “no news is good news.” Usually on projects it is the exact opposite.  Silence is a sign of trouble.  Management must challenge the project manager and team to “show” progress and how the project is proceeding towards providing intended value.  Also, management must provide the project manager with the necessary support especially with dealing with issues and risks that are outside the responsibilities or control of the project manager.

Rhetoric: When project correspondence looks like a political speech, talking about the greatness of manager X or the honor of organization Y then you can be sure that the project is in deep trouble.  If we exalt the project and its stakeholders so much , and they are so perfect, then how can we dare bring to anybody’s attention the potential problems the project might face or the shortcomings of the work done to date?

– When people are afraid to make mistakes and all they care about is not to do anything wrong.  If you are not making mistakes then you are not working.  But Most would rather not do any work rather than get blamed for mistakes they made.  This is a management problem, not team members problem.  If management does not create an atmosphere where team members are comfortable making mistakes, then no difficult project or undertaking will ever be tackled with enough rigor to succeed.

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How executives can bring project failure upon their projects

Posted by Ammar Mango on October 12, 2012

One of the privileges of being a project management consultant is getting a chance to help on, support, and assess more projects than the average person.  What does not cease to amaze many consultants is how surprised stakeholders are when projects fail, even though failure signs almost hit them in the face.

Project success cannot be guaranteed.  To the contrary: a key characteristic of project work is uncertainty and how elusive success can be.  Nonetheless, in many of the failure projects, failure is not only imminent, but could have been seen coming from a mile away.

Project failure is predictable, and when brought up to stakeholders’ attention many still do not take warnings seriously.  Not because warnings do not make sense, but more because what is being asked to prevent failure is tough for managers.  Just like when a dietitian warns someone to lose weight.  It is not that his warnings do not make sense, but dieting for many people is hard.

It is so ironic that the main reason for project failure is the project stakeholders themselves who are careful not to fail the project: Executives and upper management.  There are so many examples out there of how this happens in so many organizations wordwide.

One of the common ways some executives mess up their projects is when zealous executives do not trust their team members to get the job done.  They do not believe that the team wants success enough or as much as they do, so they get involved in micro details that they have no business getting into.  This frustrates team members and they start getting disengaged from the project and become just hands following directions from the executives on sensitive technical details.  This is a sure recipe for project failure, still so many do it, so many do not notice themselves doing it, and when projects fail, they will still blame it on the team and never see the problem as theirs, and off they go again to ruin the next project.

Another common way is when some executives assume they can just “buy” the talent they need, put them all in a room, and they will “cook” up a successful product and hence project success.  What executives miss is the need for team synergy and level of orchestration required from a skillful project manager to attain value sought from the project. So, they try to manage the team themselves, or ignore managing the team altogether, or bring in a weak project manager.  The result is a bunch of estranged experts who know they are capable of excellence, but still unable to see it collectively achieved by the team.

Some executives speak from both sides of their mouth.  They assure the project manager that they will stop at no cost to ensure project success, especially strategically critical projects.   Yet they do not put their actions and money where their mouths are.  So, they start trying to save money in the wrong places and start cutting into the “lean meat” of the project instead of cutting the fat.  So, they would cut on important preparation and planning to “save” time and money.  Unfortunately by doing so, they are throwing the baby with the bath water, so to speak.

One can go on, but one more example might suffice.  It is in a way funny but sad in so many ways. Some executives assume that instilling fear, pressure, and even panic into the hearts of their teams will result in the team members becoming more careful and putting more effort into getting the job done.  What happens in reality is that people get detached, scared, and prefer to do as little as possible so they do not make mistakes.  Then everyone becomes a political person instead of a technical expert and tries to throw the work and blame on others because they are so scared to be blamed for project failure.  It is like breathing down the neck of a surgeon taking on a heart surgery, threatening him with consequences if the surgery is not successful.

Keys to project success include trust in your team, respect and win-win attitude, a professional project manager, rigorous and iterative planning, clarity, and integrity.  Executives are in best position to assure such an environment.

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