Straight Talk on Project Management

Before and after delivery

Share this post


RSS feed

In uncertain times bake resilience into every IT Project – before and after delivery

Bake resilience into every IT Project before – and after delivery.

I’m writing this on the hottest day of the year so far, and, it turns out, on record in the UK. It feels hotter that anything I’ve personally ever experienced, even on holiday, and, as always, there are lessons everywhere for project management teams.

I heard on the radio today, somebody had texted in to say that on day one of the heatwave (Monday 18/7/22) they had been forced to go into work by bosses, but on day two (Tuesday 19/7/22) they’d had to work from home because the office PCs had not been able to handle the heat. Now, I’d expect a regular PC to withstand double today’s record high so I can only take the story at face value but, if it is true, then someone, somewhere should be questioning the resilience of the end product of their IT project! (I reckon a PC should be able to operate at over 90°C, so it must have got really hot in the office of this radio listener! Probably more of a concern is that the company expected its human resources to function in such heat!!)

Of course, sometimes one problem can exacerbate another. A friend shared a story of how every business in their multi-storey office block cranking up the air-con (which was admittedly overdue an overhaul) led to the air-con failing across the whole building.

When his office was fitted out, a strict ‘uncluttered desk’ policy dictated that all the PCs would be housed in racks in a separate ‘facilities room’ – desks would have just have a mouse, keyboard and screen. Like most fairly modern buildings, the architect of this office block had a thing for glass and so all the offices soon became like greenhouses. Not great for productivity – unless you’re growing tomatoes!

Now, the business’ decision to house the vulnerable hardware separately would have been sound in this case, were it not for the glass roof – right in the middle of the top floor ‘facility room’. The room became like a sauna and before long every monitor on those obsessively tidy desks was flashing a red ‘system fault’ warning.

All of this could have been avoided at the project development stage. The expected lifespan of the aircon should have been clearly documented and overhauled in a timely manner, planned for in advance, the air-con’s capacity and ability to handle greater loads should have been anticipated, the building’s architect could have avoided these issues before a spade had even gone into the ground.

Then, those involved in the project that delivered my friend’s office set up could have foreseen the risk of putting all their CPUs in one basket, so to speak, and mitigated it. They could have argued at the planning stage that a room beneath a top floor window, full of electrical equipment would get hot and might need a separate, back up air con. They could have pushed back against the obsession for tidy desks, explaining that the office had blinds that could keep sunlight out and temperatures down, they could have presented the tidy-obsessed with alternatives to boxy tower units and desktops, PCs now can be no larger than a box of cook’s matches and can be invisibly attached to the underside of a desk. The business could have incentivised a BYOD (bring your own device) scheme or provided laptops instead of desktops … there’s potentially an infinite range of solution that could have baked resilience into these projects before they transitioned into service.

Maybe if we were better at baking resilience into the DNA of our project management processes, it would naturally then flow into the projects themselves.

If you’re feeling brave, run your project portfolio by someone who has trained as a military leader – but expect to be pulled apart when it comes to crisis readiness and resilience. A CIO friend lives next to a former lieutenant colonel and over a whiskey (or two) one night the former army man asked to see ‘what his neighbour did for a living’. The two took their whiskey into my friend’s office and for the next two hours the military mind “tore shreds” off any resilience planning my friend had in place. It wasn’t just IT Projects! The banking industry after the financial crash, all governments during the pandemic, even Manchester United after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson all came in for criticism for not having a rehearsed and ready crisis response. It was an eye opener, and my CIO friend now approaches risk with a more strategic, almost military approach.

As a result, he has a business analyst on his team whose role is almost exclusively project risk planning, his team has a headspace and toolkit devoted to resilience, which he calls “Area 11” (named after chapter 11 of the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) all about project risk management.

Another PM friend devoted extra resources to building project resilience after painful lessons where unexpected but foreseeable circumstances aggravated project roadblocks and even led to failure.

They’re lessons that the rest of us can learn from, but we don’t need the experience of others or even a military scolding to guide us. The pandemic, the disruption to supply chains caused by wars in foreign lands, Brexit, limited human resource availability, we’ve lived through so many moments recently where events have taught us the need to bake in project resilience, this heatwave is just the latest!

In a Loughborough University thesis, Karen B. Blay, defined resilience in projects as “Specifically … the capability of a project to respond to, prepare for and reduce the impact of disruption caused by the drifting environment and project complexity. The dimensions of resilience are proactivity, coping ability, flexibility and persistence.” I think she nails it.

In her thesis Karen makes the case for attention to resilience in the projects themselves, not just the deliverables moving forward. Karen neatly conceptualises resilience in projects, explores the context and discipline specific nature of the resilience concept, and explores “the little or no attention in projects” to resilience.

Karen further defines those dimensions of resilience; proactivity, coping ability, flexibility, and persistence, she writes, “Proactivity can be defined as an anticipatory capability that the project takes to influence their endeavours whilst coping ability can be defined as the capability to manage and deal with stress caused by disruptions within the projects. Furthermore, flexibility can be defined as the capability of a project to manage disruption by allowing change but ultimately making sure that the aim is maintained, and persistence is the capability to continue despite difficult situations.

Karen then identifies several antecedents of these dimensions of resilience. For ‘proactivity’ and ‘coping ability’ she cites contract, training, monitoring, contingency and experience, for ‘flexibility’ she pushes open-mindedness, planning, continual monitoring and continual identification of ideas and for ‘persistence’ continual monitoring, planning and negotiation are key. She adds, “The consequence of resilience in projects is recovery through response, readiness and vulnerability reduction.” It’s worth a read, I’ll include a link in the sources.

If you don’t think you have the capacity to factor resilience into your future or current project plans, Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) can help with the resources you need on demand and it you can’t see how or where you can make your IT Projects more robust, Stoneseed’s analysis and assessment services (a fresh pair of eyes) could be a useful first step.

Call 01623 723910, let’s meet and discuss (especially if you have great aircon!!)
Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed


UK reaches hottest ever temperature as 40.2C recorded at Heathrow | UK weather | The Guardian

Also worth a read: