Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good Projects?
I was inspired by a recent Facebook post by a friend who asked, in a status update, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Within minutes, dozens of replies appeared, all along the lines of "You OK hun?" or "How can I help?".
She's fine by the way, just wondering why despite best efforts, bad things happen. It's the same with IT Projects, you can think that you have all eventualities covered when something blindsides you on a Friday afternoon and suddenly you end up working all weekend to put it right.
My Facebook friend was having one of THOSE days! A parking ticket, call from kids school to say her son was ill, stand up row with her boss kind of a day ... and as I read the kindness and love in the replies it struck me that in life, as in IT Projects, there are some things you can mitigate against and some things that you can't! With the latter, it's how you deal it and who you can call upon to help that makes all the difference.
As my friend later said, the parking ticket could have been avoided by parking within the painted bay and the argument with her boss could have been avoided by "him not being such a jerk". The poorly child is different - you just deal with it (or call Grandma who becomes childminder and nurse for the day).
And so it is with IT Projects.
Just about every IT Project that fails has a clear and obvious reason why - in hindsight! The trick is to develop foresight, or as close as you can get to it, by learning the lessons each time and putting measures in place to avoid a repeat event in the future. Even then, bad things still happen to good projects and at that point, outcomes are directly related to the quality and speed of your response.
Let’s examine THREE BAD THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO GOOD PROJECTS ...
1 - SCOPE CREEP
Probably the single biggest killer of IT Projects. Everyone knows this, it's one of the first things you learn as a Project Manager ALTHOUGH you knew it even before that, it’s common sense.
I remember being sent to the shops to buy milk as a kid and being told I could get some sweets with the change. Actually, as well the sweets, I also bought a comic but not before I'd properly and thoroughly perused all the titles on sale. When I got home, the pot of tea (for which I'd been sent to buy the milk) had stewed and gone cold and I didn't hand over the expected amount of change.
It was my first experience of scope creep! Throw in more tasks and spend more money than planned and any project will take longer and cost more. We've all instinctively known this forever but from stakeholders to project teams we have all been guilty of allowing scope creep to happen.
AND sometimes, it's necessary! If the market changes mid-project and you need to react to remain relevant, or really exciting additional deliverables are identified, it would be foolish to stick rigidly to your original plan. It would also be foolish to expect the rules of the original plan to still apply. You may need extra resources from the Project Management as a Service market, you may need extra time, you may need to renegotiate the budget ... there is always something you can do!
2 - LACK OF LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE
Last year, we were called to consult on an IT Project that had been planned, scoped and budgeted perfectly. Soon though, things had started to go wrong; staff fell ill and the remaining team members got stretched trying to cope, a list of stakeholder "must haves" began to land in the Project Manager's email inbox and, in the melee, the team lost focus on the agreed outcomes of the Project.
It was actually the PM who reached out admitting that he was out of his depth. I love this self-awareness!
There is no shame in admitting this. Each project varies in complexity and each project manager has his or her own level of experience, to which they are adding all the time. The Project Management as a Service market has reached a maturity now that can provide end to end Project Management services for more complex projects and, of course, fill gaps like staff shortages.
Perhaps the greatest thing you can do here is become a knowledge sponge! If you are hiring in more experienced resources make sure that you learn from them!
3 - LACK OF STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
An IT Project Team Leader I know called me recently to say, "David, I honestly think that if we stopped working on this project and didn't deliver it - no-one would even notice."
My friend works in an industry where a lot of consolidation has occurred of late, companies have merged, IT architectures have been integrated, priorities have changed. The project in question is a customer facing app that was designed to disrupt the market and challenge a larger rival. The problem is that after a hostile takeover that larger rival now owns my friend's company and many of the original sponsors and stakeholders have moved on or changed their role or focus.
In this case, stakeholder engagement vanished overnight. It's not always this dramatic, of course, sometimes long projects can lose the attention of stakeholders along the way it is the job of the project team to communicate regularly and in an engaging way so that delivery is eventually met with a fanfare and not a whimper of vague interest.
In the case above, I have challenged my friend to approach the business decision makers at the new owner and ask if the work he is doing is still relevant to the post-takeover business strategy. I think that this pro-active approach will earn him more credit than delivering a project six months from now that no-one even knew, or remembered, was happening!
There is always something that YOU can do.
In conclusion, bad things do happen to good projects and some are under your control and others are not. However, what you do have control of (in every circumstance) is how you react and you have the power to make that call to ask for help. The Project Management as a Service universe is expanding on a daily basis with new solutions to the challenges that we all face from time to time.
There is always someone on the other end of a phone or an email who can help.
So, like those replies to my Facebook friend, let me ask ... "You OK?" ... "How can I help?"