Blog: Fixing Problem and High-Risk Projects

Most projects do not fail for the problems on the project; they fail for the problems in the organizations associated with them. Even issues within the project are usually personnel related requiring the project manager to do more counseling than managing. So where does the project manager get these skills? Unfortunately, they come from experience; few come from formal training. Instead, project managers get training on process, which, as can be seen in many of my articles, is misguided. Project managers need to spend more time developing the organizations, making them stronger. Without doing extensive organization development, projects will continue to fail.

Student Taking the Test

After being a project manager for a couple decades, the Procedure Police finally caught up with me and I had to get my PMP®. No, not for a job, for marketing. My publisher's marketing department made a PMP a requirement for publishing my new book. My wife was aghast that after teaching courses to PMPs so they could get their educational credits and recovering multiple projects that PMPs had led down the red road to failure, that I would have to go through any process to get this certificate. In her mind, my record of accomplishment should have stood for itself. I realized the bureaucracy of the whole affair and trudged forward.

Sign of a quality decision, so thought the decider

Recently I have seen an abundance of references to decision making in everything from presentations to job titles. Yes, I said job title. Director of Quality Decisions. The second thing that struck me (the first being that it was actually a title) was that it was too low in the company. Are other leadership roles like C-Levels, Presidents, and VPs exempt? Unfortunately, I know little about that job and cannot find the person that got the position. I would love to interview him or her.

Every project has its heroes. I am not talking about the pompous grandstanders selfishly getting their fingers into every process in order to gain fame. I am talking about the people that really get the work done. Toiling tirelessly to complete their tasks and move the project forward. Below is a profile of seven of them. I have chosen them because they represent agility, communication, responsiveness, and cooperation. These are the traits discussed in my last article.

CIO Thinking, by Geek and Poke

CIOs have two major responsibilities—keeping IT's lights on (backups, networks, email, etc.) and providing support for business initiatives. Being mediocre at either will make for a short career. Although the respective budgets are normally a 70:30 split, a CIO will be fired in a minute for failing to properly support the 30%. That portion of their budget actually generates the company money. Keeping the lights on is a thankless job. People simply expect networks run, data served, and viruses inoculated. It is expected much as we expect water when turning on the tap. Supporting business initiatives is just as thankless since 60% of projects seem to always be in trouble.

No Knuckle Draggers

Walking onto red projects, anyone can see and feel the problems. The bedraggled team wears the pain with their long faces and the slumped shoulders. Knuckle draggers. They are carrying the weight of the world, or at least the project, on their shoulders. How can any project succeed with these demoralized, denigrated, and defeated folks? Their spirits are far from lifted with new project manager's enthusiastic optimism. It only irritates a team wallowing in their misery. Nothing is worse than a chipper cheerleader when you are absorbed in troubles. It is an ugly situation.

As most of you know, I am a total convert. Social media is, simply put, cool. I am a Twitter and LinkedIn bigot and may soon be flourishing in Facebook. Last week a long time friend got back in touch with me all because of social media. Hold on, don't stop reading! This is a business blog, not a story about some high school friends getting together and tweeting about eating bagels or sushi. This is about the business power of social media.

My friend works for a multibillion-dollar company and he is frustrated with "these kids" making stupid non-business decisions. Worse yet, they shy away from the company he works for because his company is "too old." I told Claude (pardon for no link, he lacking a Twitter account. Surprised?), "Well you are old. Your fifty-three I am only fifty-two!" There was silence.

Conflict resolution is a major part of recovering red projects. The solutions range from firing the bastards to analyzing where the sources of conflicts are and determining a more friendly way to resolve them. I have to admit, when stepping into a project where the estimate at completion is a couple million dollars over the budget, everyone is pointing fingers, and the customer is screaming the supplier is in default, replacing people is sometimes the best option. So much so, my kids occasionally refer to me as 'hatch.'

CCU, No Hugs HereA few years ago, we had a run in with the healthcare industry. I think of it this way since is sounds like a run in with the law. Doctors are the law, or so they think. Do as they say, or else. The problem was that my wife, at 46, was having a heart attack and had a hidden... oops... I almost spoiled the story. Unbeknownst to me, Doctors rarely think about two things being wrong; they only work on one issue at a time. Those of us who live in project work realize this assumption can have grave consequences. What the doctors in this case needed was an anal-retentive, tenacious, asshole of a Project Manager whose objective was a successful project. As Gene Kranz so aptly said, "Failure is not an option," the product, service or end result of this project was a life—my wife's. However, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take a few minutes to set the stage to show my mistakes and how years of project recovery experience helped. I will keep it brief.

I have always enjoyed being part of team building exercises. The one where you close your eyes and fall backwards hoping that your team members catch you is my favorite. It reminds me of an amusement park ride. There is always the thought in the back of my mind that some trickster will let my head crack on the floor. I think it adds more excitement. However, team building exercises only go so far and normally fail to reach their objective. They are too transient. The event happens, the manager checks off the list to show the task is done and he or she goes back to managing the team with status reports, task assignments by email and visiting people only when something goes wrong.

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