Avoiding Project Failure

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estimate regarding how long it will take.” Then in the next breath, argues with the answer?

While some of this is due to the limited training most people have regarding how to build and validate estimates. Much of it goes back to magical thinking. We would all like to think that just saying something makes it true, unfortunately this is rarely the case. Second-guessing estimates is frequently one of the most destructive things that a project manager can do, because it undermines the commitment of the team and the credibility of the schedule.

The people doing the work must be involved in the creation of estimates for their work. If the people doing the work don’t believe in the estimates, estimates become just numbers and dates on paper and will have little bearing on performance or reality.

This is NOT to say that it is not reasonable to discuss the rationale of estimates with the estimators. It should always be reasonable to say:

“Mary, let’s talk about the scope of the work as you see it to make sure we both understand and agree what must be done.”

“Mary, let’s review your assumptions about the resources required to do this work, are there any additional resources I could obtain that would help you do the job more quickly?”

“Mary, what assumptions are you making about the work that are driving your estimates? Let’s make sure we agree on the environment in which the work will be done and the resources available.”

The final say needs to rest with the person you trust to do the work, or else what you are saying is that you don’t trust them to do the work... so you must have the wrong person!

Estimates should be made by people competent to perform the work.

Summary
If you must fail, try to find a new and creative way to fail. Don’t fall prey to these clichés.

Defining, planning and managing business projects takes project management skills that require time to learn, and practice to master. It isn’t hard to fail... failure is easy. Remember that most projects involve creation of a product or service, and creation is always a difficult task because it involves trying to predict the future and manage to that prediction. The key to success is to realize that your predictions will not always be right, and to deal with reality as it unfolds. There is an old Scandinavian proverb that says: “When the terrain and your map disagree, believe the terrain!” Effective project management avoids or minimizes most of the situations described above by encouraging effective and timely communication, acknowledging that plans are educated guesses about the future that will not always be correct, and trying to work with the project team to deal with reality as it is revealed rather than trying to deny it as long as possible.

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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