Project Health Checks and Audits
Walking onto any troubled project, guess what I hear? We are spending too much money, we cannot miss the due date, we need everything we are asking for, and it is "their" fault. My job is telling them the bad news—we need more money, we are cutting scope, and the project is still going to be late. Those are the unavoidable facts and the stakeholders need to accept them. Worse than that, I am not going to blame anyone. Blame is counterproductive. So, how does this compare to the situation with the United States Congress? In short, they do not get it. They need an apolitical, outside entity to build the recovery plan—just like we do anytime we are recovering any project.
The project was out of control. Within a two-week span, the project manager reported a slide of at least six months. To put the postponement in perspective, the original project plan was a total of nine months. Accusations came from everywhere. The customer complained about the project manager, requirements analysts were frustrated with the customer, the project manager was pushing on his leads to close requirements gathering, there was infighting within the team, and management did fnot know whom to believe. The organization was in mayhem and the only solution was to hire an external auditor to sort out the facts.
Why would anyone need to teach a group of managers how to tie their shoes? It seems improbable anyone could make it to this point in his or her career lacking this simple skill. However, I feel quite confident that a vast majority of project managers, managers, leaders, and probably you, are improperly lashing your laces. This prognostication will go one step further stating that even after proving a better method, they, and you, will be unwilling to put forth the effort to change. Adopting change, beyond just tying your shoes, is at the root of our inability to improve many of our business processes. Furthermore, studying this behavior and the subsequent difficulty of maintaining a new and better method will help us understand the high recidivism rate.
A project manager's job is to deliver value. Achieving the original schedule, budget, and features is meaningless if the customer does not receive value. As with all simple statements, this much easier said than accomplished. Projects managers must assemble adaptable teams that use flexible, lean methodologies. Arrogantly selling the latest technology or tool is narcissistic. Focus on the customer. Be vigilant at ensuring the information is always available for the customer to reassess the project's value and for the project team to reevaluate their proposal.
"People say I am indecisive, but I am not so sure about that." I have seen this quote attributed to a former US President, but I doubt he actually siad this. First, it is too intelligent a comment for him and, second, he is far from indecisive. The liberal pundits trying to attribute that quote to him confuse indecision with defective decision making. You can figure out who the President is on your own; however, it is irrelevant. This article is about leadership not politics. Organizations confronted with a decision-challenged individual in a leadership role, is adrift in the sea of serendipity. They bobble around having no direction.
"I just want to be a project manager. I don't want all that responsibility." The room was silent, save a few exasperated sighs. We all looked around trying to figure out how we would handle the comment. However, there are many levels of project management maturity and only the highest levels require leadership. In fact, the prominent certification process—PMI's PMP®—has little to do with leadership until 2015. So where do we learn about leadership and how can we improve our leadership skills?
The system integrator is the magical troupe that works with the customer and the software vendor to deliver a project's desired functionality. They cut through the vendor's promises while controlling the customer's expectations to create a successful deployment. Mike Krigsman refers to this triad as the Devil's Triangle; all three parties are culpable in the failure and share in the success. However, the system integrator is responsible for holding the three together to achieve successful delivery. The cornerstone to this relationship is a thoughtfully built contract.
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.