Straight Talk on Project Management

Fortune cookie

Share this post


RSS feed

Fortune cookie: All will go well with your new project (except..?)

As an IT Project professional you can imagine my delight upon opening this post-Chinese takeaway fortune cookie: “ALL WILL GO WELL WITH YOUR NEW PROJECT”.

“Happy news!” I thought. “That’s alright, then. We can ease up on all that governance and stuff and trust in the cookie’s prophecy.”

Except … well … without wishing to impugn the integrity of my fortune cookie and its powers of prognostication – all is not going well with all new projects: the environment is unforgiving at the moment; budgets are tight; delivery schedules are pressured; teams are stretched; the demands for greater return on investment are seemingly insatiable; and (perhaps due to these pressures) I’ve noticed a recurrence of some “golden oldie” project mistakes.

Still buoyed by my fortune cookie, and for fun, I’ve donned my virtual apron, mixed up a bowl of flour, sugar, vanilla, and sesame seed oil and knocked up a batch of six other fortune cookies that IT Project teams might find useful reminders. Enjoy!!

FORTUNE COOKIE #1 – Have the right people in the right place at the right time

“I’m out of my depth!” I’ll never forget a Project Manager saying this once through teared-up, blood-shot eyes. The runaway project was enough evidence of this, he had lost the confidence of the team, he’d misjudged risks, he had misallocated resources, the project plan was so fluid you “could have kept a fish in it” (actual quote from a team member)! Ten years on, I’d trust that Project Manager with ANY and EVERY IT Project – the man has among the safest pairs of hands I know.

Having the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time can be fatal. It might not be inexperience, as in this case, it could be that your project manager’s skills just don’t line up with those required for a particular project, or it could be that you have a manager skilled at single project delivery managing a multi-project portfolio, or vice versa.

It could also be that you have an unfilled role, maybe one that you didn’t even realise you had! A common example is a Business Analyst, many organisations don’t realise the value of a BA until they have one working across their projects – most then wonder how they ever managed without one!

Resource planning is really important, we all know this! Regrettably, too often a project team is assembled based on team members’ availability and not their skillset or relevant experience.

TIP: Ensure that your talent is up to the job. Ensure that any talent gaps are filled. Ensure that you pick your team based on who’s best and not who’s free! Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) universe is expanding all the time and we will have exactly the talent you need, just when you need them! Even BAs! Check out ‘Business Analysis as a Service‘ (BAaaS).    

FORTUNE COOKIE #2 – Have a clear process

How is this even still a thing? It’s 2023 (as I write this) and projects are still launching without clear or appropriate processes! Every project is different, every team is made of individuals with different talents and characteristics so processes should be chosen with all this in mind.

TIP: Agree to a process and stick to it but be selective! Don’t deliver a project that lends itself to an agile approach using waterfall because you always use waterfall! Don’t deliver all aspects and elements of a project using the same methodology throughout when it makes more sense to mix and match approaches to suit individual bodies of work. Hybrid approaches are delivering amazing success. Stoneseed can help with Processes, Methodologies and Tool Sets.

FORTUNE COOKIE #3 – Know what good will look like

My friend is a life coach and recently asked me what my “perfect day” would be like. “Oh, I don’t know,” I answered (apparently this is what everyone says). My friend countered, “Then how can you ever expect to have one single perfect day, if you don’t know what one would look like?” Got me there!

Some projects are like this … unclear objectives, sketchy business case, poor success metrics (like irrelevant KPIs), SLAs that are unfit for purpose … I could go on! Like that “perfect day”, if your team members do not understand project objectives, if they can’t tell you what they are then how can they deliver a successful project aligned with the needs of your business.

TIP: Be clear about the project’s objective, make them understandable, communicate them, ensure your whole team can communicate them back.

FORTUNE COOKIE #4 – Communicate like your life depends on it – your project’s life does!

Clear and effective communication with your stakeholders and team members is non-negotiable. Projects can fail because of communication vacuums. In IT projects, it is better to over communicate (and over document) than under – I’ve never been at a project debrief where folks complained about there being too much information. Projects can be fluid, developing entities and it’s crucial that everyone is always kept in the loop.

TIP: Select a method of communication that suits you! Some smaller teams prefer verbal communications, one small team used to insist on face-to-face communications (seeing the whites of a colleague’s eyes created greater team cohesion (post Covid they now work more remotely but still prefer face to face even if it is via Teams or Zoom). Bigger teams, or teams with talent located in more than location need a solid written system of communication and project documentation. The main thing is to choose one and stick to it. Consistent communication will help team members and stakeholders remain well-informed of decisions, changes, issues, etc, etc.

FORTUNE COOKIE #5 – Debrief – A lesson unlearned is a mistake waiting to be repeated

Possibly due to time pressures, many project managers are skipping the post-delivery evaluation part of a project and it is here that the greatest lessons are learned and where (returning to Fortune Cookie #3) you develop the sixth sense for what good looks like!!!

Regardless of how successful (or not) your project is, you should aim to review it once complete. The project debrief is the last feedback loop and arguably the most valuable and will allow you to document, share and digest all the lessons learned. In future, should similar issues arise, you’ll have a well-documented ‘off the shelf’ plan for how to deal with them.

TIP: Post project, meet for a debrief and document what went well and what went not so well. Brainstorm alternative approaches and what you might do differently in the future and document your thoughts in a place where they are accessible to everyone on the team -now and in the future.

FORTUNE COOKIE #6 – Manage things lead people

A recent project we consulted on was failing on two fronts: scope creep wasn’t being managed effectively but the team members were being micromanaged! It reminded me of the adage “Manage things, lead people”.

So, in this instance, a small change request had snowballed into a series of small change requests. The project manager had lost sight of the deliverables, the deadline and the budget and in an attempt to demonstrate an air of control was now micro-managing his team. They resented the overbearing and controlling management style, instead of developing a sense of team-responsibility and proactively addressing the creeping scope, they clocked in, did as they were told and clocked out! Morale was very low!   

A great leader trusts their team to do what needs doing and invariably the mutual trust that develops means that they’ll have your back when challenges like scope creep appear.

TIP: Manage deliverables, budgets, deadlines, scope, tea and coffee (etc) … lead humans. Set goals at the start of the project, ensure everyone knows the part they play and what their personal objectives are and let them “do them” – remember that someone else might work differently to you and if it works and they deliver then you look good too! “Check in with your team, don’t check up on your team” my PM friend Malc often says.


Unfortunately, some projects seem to be cracking open ‘Misfortune Cookies’ right now. These are pressured times; we all could do with having each other’s back in the industry.

With that in mind, Stoneseed is on hand to help with most resource issues. Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) provides access to project professionals, resources and tools at a flexible and predictable cost. Our services portfolio offers a true end to end service, from IT Technical Advisory, Business Analysis Services and PMO Services through to Programme & Project Delivery. 

You know, I cracked open one more Chinese Fortune Cookie that night … it said, “YOU WILL FORGE AHEAD WITH PLANS THIS WEEK”.

Now you have the good fortune to know about PMaaS, forge ahead you can!  

  Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed