Avoiding Project Failure

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discovering omissions and errors as they go forward. These must be addressed as they are detected... it is silly to assume that everything can be anticipated. The problem suggested by this phrase is that it appears our speaker has given up TRYING to do define the end product up front, or keep the specification current. When we stop trying to build and maintain reliable specifications or descriptions of our work products, we lose control over the definition of the final products and the costs and schedule required to build them.

There should always be written agreements about what is being built and everyone on the project should know how to obtain the latest “official” version of a specification. Definitions and agreements will evolve, so there must be a version control process to support this evolution.

8. “We’ve really been in a crunch till now, but I think this new [tool, method, person] will get us caught up.”
This statement suggests what is called “magical thinking”. With the right magical ingredient, everything will be all right.

Project managers whose projects are behind and would rather believe in magic than face the facts frequently fall prey to consultants or tool vendors who offer enticingly easy answers to difficult problems. Unfortunately, someone occasionally finds a tool or expert or method that seems to save the day for a project, which propagates the myth that there is a tool/method/expert that will save any project if you look hard enough. If you can’t describe a credible way to accomplish the project with existing tools, methods, and people—This is a priority risk item that should not be wished away by pointing to a brochure for a product or service with which the team has no experience.

When projects have been in “crunch” mode for an extended period, what is needed is not a “magical cure” but probably a more mundane review of the current schedule and resource plans and constraints, a review of the work products that are being produced, and an evaluation of the tradeoffs that might make sense given the experience to date.

Careful evaluation of the current plans and creation of more realistic plans is not as exciting as the miracle cure, but it is almost always more reliable.

9. “I thought we all agreed to change that!”
It is essential to define a project’s goals up front. Once defined, it is important to track and communicate changes to the definition in a systematic way. This is called “Change control” or “Change Management”.

When done poorly, change control is a bureaucratic waste of time.

When it is not done at all, projects rarely deliver what was agreed to, and often require more resources and time than should have been needed in the first place due to the amount of rework that is required to get things to come together. Satisfaction with the end product can also be problematic, because there will probably be several conflicting views about what the end product was supposed to be.

When change control is done well, proposed changes to the project’s work products are evaluated for overall impact to the project’s schedule, scope and resources. If a change is approved, it is clearly and quickly communicated to the team to minimize rework.

Effective change management is essential to project success.

10. “Two months! That task can’t possibly take two months! I’ll estimate five weeks will be enough.”
Have you ever noticed the paradox suggested when a project manager says, “Mary, you are the best qualified specialist I have for this part of the work. Give me your best

About the author

Payson Hall's picture Payson Hall

Payson Hall is a consulting project manager for Catalysis Group, Inc. in Sacramento, California. Payson consults on project management issues and teaches project management. Email Payson at payson@catalysisgroup.com. Follow him on twitter at @paysonhall.

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