Project Rescue and Recovery
"We can fix this project ourselves." I hear that line all the time. And, of course, you can. It will just be a lot slower and more expensive because consultants cheat. Consultants simply have much more flexibility than employees do. At least consultants that put the client first. For instance, they can... Wait, I am getting a little ahead of myself. We need a little context before making that case. Obviously, consultants cannot do everything. It takes a delicate balance of consultants, employees, and contractors to get the optimal performance out of an organization.
The ability to quickly deliver initiatives that make breakthroughs in the business is the differentiator of truly successful organizations. It takes a blame-free culture, highly accountable, talented, and innovative people, and money. Nothing is free. However, even with this powerful combination, project success rates are dismal. Failure rate estimates range from 40-75% of projects are over budget, late, or fail to deliver the required functionality. There are many actions leaders can take to minimize this, but at times it is just part of being in a world where customers want constant innovation.
Negotiation is at the heart of every recovery. Once the problems are determined, you must get everyone to concur on the solution. Achieving agreement, however, is inextricably bound to culture—from Asia's polite bows and constant "yeses," to the fist pounding demands of the Middle East. The distinction hit me in back-to-back projects. Culture shock abound. Little did I know, I would find solace and guidance in a favorite Monty Python flick.
Decisions, deshmisions, what is the big deal? Anyone can make a decision! Hardly. After years of working with ineffective initiatives and consternated companies, I have a healthy respect for the D-word. It is all about the seven 'tudes—ineptitude, attitude, fortitude, altitude, aptitude, incertitude, and vicissitude. Some organizations obtrude the 'tude in which they are imbued, while others are denude of a common 'tude.
The subpoena shows up at the front desk and you get the call to come and pick it up. You get that nauseating feeling that it is going to be a long day… no… a very long year. The subpoena asks for every contract, statement of work, change order, log, email, document, physical mail, specification, test document, picture, drawing, scratch note, etc. that ever existed on your project. You reflect back on the project and wonder how many corners you cut for the sake of getting the project done and meeting the customer's incessant requests for more or different features and functions.
You wonder if along with bringing in the lawyers you should also bring in an expert to help you build your defense. This keynote helps you understand what experts witnesses look for and how they prepare their case.
Projects build in technical debt and maintenance groups remove it—if your organization has a maintenance group. Technical debt accrues in any product, whether or not it has a technical component. It is the result of taking shortcuts when building the product. Sometimes it is the result of not having enough time, on other occasions it is due to not having the right tools. Anything from the implementation of the software component to light fixture can have technical debt. Promises are made to correct it later, but later never comes.
A few weeks ago, I posted an article on five of the ten stupidest decisions management had done on troubled projects, as promised, here are the other five. Although these may all bring a little light hearted laughter, the goal is to educate in order to avoid repeat performances. We all have seen, and made, dumb decisions; finger pointing and blame will not improve the result. So, read on, enjoy and then share your experiences so we all learn more.
People routinely ask me the question, "What do you do when you find yourself on a project that is a hopeless failure?" It was raised again a few weeks ago in a Focus.com roundtable and then last week in an interview with Andy Kaufman. It only matters if the executives above the project are ignorant to how dire the situation is. It is tricky, trying to convince someone that they have a problem when they refuse to acknowledge the obvious—a tough and politically dangerous sell. The general consensus is "dust of the résumé." However, there is a logical approach to the problem—be logical.
Leadership is more than leading the people reporting to you. Too often, you need to lead people over which you lack any authority. The absence of hierarchical advantage adds a challenge, but is ideal training on how to deal with managers, customers, and difficult people. The key is making them feel the direction chosen is theirs. One of the best methods of doing this is storytelling.
"Why is it that when you get hired you are no longer the expert?" A chuckle rippled through the audience; however, the woman asking the question was serious. I turned the question back to the audience of director level managers, "Why is this the case?" There was silence. Finally, I proffered that it was management's lack of understanding the skills of the people working for them. "Who in your organization can you implicitly trust?" More silence. It is sad that organizations know so little about the people that they hired—the people on which they stake their company's future.