Timely and accurate information is often your only silver bullet against interminable and doomed projects. Learn how to deliver bad news in such a way that Senior Management hears it and acts promptly.
Somewhere in your organization, an ongoing development project has breathed its last breath. It isn't going to deliver on its promises and the team knows it. The project is a zombie, one of the walking dead, but the organization continues to invest resources to get it done. The development team has been working sixty-hour weeks, and they're getting irritable. The testing team is starting to work seventy-hour weeks, and the chaos and stress are mounting. People have begun using the copy machine surreptitiously, wearing suits to work, and taking longer lunches. This week an ill-informed executive tried to allay the fears of one of the would-be customers of the doomed effort: "The project is going well," he said sincerely. "I'm sure you will be pleased with the results."
If your organization canceled the dead project now, it could cut its losses and redeploy the people to more productive work-but it can't. If your organization canceled the dead project now, it could stop telling fairy tales and destroying relationships with its customers-but it can't. Why is this "zombie project" continuing? Why doesn't Senior Management give it last rites and make it lie down and rest in peace?
Because Senior Management doesn't know the project is in trouble, and won't until the last possible minute.
Is this a conspiracy? Voodoo? Sabotage? More likely, the line managers (development managers, QA managers, testing managers, project managers) have been trying to get the message through, but it isn't being heard. Perhaps they have given up-surmising that the senior managers don't want to know.
The only way to drive a stake through the hearts of these zombies, then, is to deliver bad news in such a way that Senior Management can hear it. My goal here is to give line managers some communication tools for delivering that bad news. Using these tools, you might even be able to change the outcome, if you can incite Senior Management to act promptly. Most organizations would appreciate the opportunity to deal promptly with troubled projects. Unfortunately, there are barriers to the delivery of bad news. These communication barriers result from the culture, skills, fears, and uncertainty of the humans involved.
Organizations and people value positive thinking. But trouble arises when organizations begin to reject any discussion of actual or potential project problems as "negative thinking." The shift can be gradual and subtle, but the consequences are devastating. Refusing to discuss the possibility of project failure establishes barriers to effective communication and management. These barriers take the form of cultural taboos:
- We can't admit or discuss that any project is a gamble from the start
- We are forbidden from effectively identifying or mitigating potential risk
- We don't periodically reassess the wisdom of continuing a project
These taboos institutionalize denial; fighting zombies is hard when you're not even allowed to admit they might exist. Taboos also create communication barriers that inhibit the information flow essential to informed decision making. Overcoming these barriers requires cultural change and effective communication.
Most courses of study for system professionals focus on the latest technical tool or methodology and dismiss "soft skills" such as communication and management as irrelevant. The truth is that hard and soft skills are closely linked, and both are important. When projects get into trouble, it's often technical difficulties that start the snowball rolling downhill. But few projects fail for exclusively technical reasons; existing communication problems compound when stressed, and they amplify technical shortfalls and other issues by delaying effective responses. Unfortunately, few people have the skill to overcome communication barriers and deliver bad news.
The communication skill problem is
|Escaping the Clutches of Zombie Projects||102.06 KB|