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Sunday, 16 May 2010 00:00

Five of the Ten Stupidest Management Actions on Failing Projects

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In many years of recovering failing projects, I have found a few management actions whose rationale seem completely absurd. Regardless of my efforts, I am unable to understand or dissuade them from their decisions. These decisions either precipitate the failure or greatly exacerbate the project's dilemma. Regardless, due to management's level of shear desperation, they can only be classified as stupid decisions. If there were the Darwin awards for management, these would qualify.

1. Add Functionality When The Project Is Behind

A project had fallen behind schedule and the customer is complaining that they will miss the deadline. This is creating additional manual work that is not in their budget. To handle this they demand a stopgap solution. The project manager agrees to adding scope to the project to help the customer overcome their hardship. This is analogous to throwing a drowning man a bucket of water. The scope increases, the budget is blown, and the time to deliver the project drags out even further.

The correct answer is, when the project starts to slow down, remove scope. Identify the critical functionality and deliver it as close to the release date as possible. Deliver the rest in a later release. Although this lengthens the project, the staff can be reduced, since people working on the delayed components can be assigned to other non-project tasks, minimizing the impact on the budget.

2. Adding More Resources

Throwing people or money at a project to fix it is never the answer. Neither can solve every problem. As the saying goes, nine women cannot make a baby in a month. The statistics show a baby a month, however they all appeared in ninth month. Maintenance costs will skyrocket, since now there are nine babies. In reality, adding people will slow the project as training, conflict resolution, and team-building tasks all require more effort from the entire team.

The same is true for money. Having too much of anything on a project can be damaging. Too many people means that people are looking for things to do, additional time removes the sense of urgency, and excessive money allows people to buy more functionality than they need.

Instead, have people focus on the most important features; remove superfluous tasks and limit outside distractions.

3. Trying To Get Different Results From The Same People

Some project teams do not have the skills to do the task at hand. If they fail once at creating the product, it makes no sense to ask them to do it again. Einstein once said, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Continuing to try to get different results from the same people does not work. Do not try to teach a pig to fly, you only annoy the pig.

If required skills are missing from the team, determine what is required to finish the job and train or replace staff to get the needed skills. Both will add time to the project, but less than ignoring the issue. Replacing people is often the only option sensible action. New resources have to ramp up on the ideas of the project, retraining people takes time for training and dispelling the attitudes in the entire team about the failing project. Training is the best option before the project gets in trouble.

4. Assume The Scope Can Be Completed In The Original Time Frame

Once a project starts to fail it is very difficult to recover the lost time. If it falls significantly behind, it is impossible to recover. Bringing in a recovery manager and demanding all the scope fit in the remaining time, is wishful thinking at best. Either functionality must be removed or the quality compromised to make the deadline.

The only option is to restrict the scope to the critical functionality and deliver only the most needed features on time. It simply does not work any other way.

5. Cancel Training

When projects start running into budgetary problems, management starts looking for ways to cut costs. Their first choice is to trim internal project costs. The quickest is to cancel training on the tools they need to build the product. However, the math does not work. A weeklong training course costs on the average four thousand dollars, a week of a resources time is about two thousand dollars. For a person to learn the same amount on his or her own, will take a minimum of four weeks. This will delay the project by three weeks. On a project with thirty people, the cost training is only four days of burn. Being late three weeks, is over $125,000. This does neglects the cost of the diminished quality due to poor understanding of the tool.

On a project that had been a dismal failure, I found a reference to the "autodidactic staffing plan." I had never heard of the technique and looked it up. After reading the brief definition, I understood why the new deployment tool did not function properly. On the recovered project, I added training back onto the budget.

Let's Hear From You

Yes, this is only the first five of the ten I have ready to share. But before I do that, Let's hear from you! What are the stupidest decisions management has ever made on one of your projects. What were the results and how did you recover?

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