Friday, January 23, 2015

Lack of Stakeholder Ownership

Why Projects Really Fail
Project stakeholders are defined as anyone with a vested interest in a project. They can have a positive interest (they will benefit from the project) or a negative interest (they see some disadvantage from the project) but they are still stakeholders. They can help or hinder a project and as project managers we neglect them at our peril.

But if the stakeholders don’t actually care about the project or take any responsibility or interest in it, then why is the project being carried out? This 'cause of failure' is closely linked with poor communication and top management support. A wise project manager communicates with all the project stakeholders (including the negative ones) and makes sure they understand the reason for and are committed to the project. It would seem that a lack of stakeholder ownership is a sign of an unnecessary project and just another symptom of poor project management.

The Project
David has now got his own copy of InDesign and is taking over editing the material directly, rather than giving me the changes to edit. I can see the advantage to him in this and will do my best to give him any support he needs, but the timescale was already quite tight so I hope he can cope with a steep learning curve.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Poor Leadership

Why Projects Really Fail
Poor Leadership was the sixth most common cause of project failure reported in the original study I am basing this series of blogs on and it is another absolute project killer. If the project manager is not providing good leadership then the project will fail, no question. No one on the team will be motivated and they won’t care if the project fails. In fact those with any sense will get themselves off the project as fast as they can. 

The wise project manager knows how important it is to provide a lead for the team and rally them when they need rallying. The wise project manager encourages the team and is supportive, without seeking to take the credit for the team's achievements.  Poor leadership is simply poor project management.  

The Project
David and I have decided to add two new chapters to the second edition of the book (Feature Driven Development and Managing Large Agile Projects) along with updating the existing content.  It will increase the size of the book and the price slightly but I think it will be a significant improvement in coverage of the subject.  Two weeks to our deadline, should be getting interesting.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Lack of Top Management Support

Why Projects Really Fail (continued)
Lack of top management support was always one of my big bug bears and it’s just poor stakeholder management. I've been there and had to deal with it. If there is no top management support for a project then why does it exist? How can it be critical to the business if top management aren’t supporting it? 

The answer was usually that it was someones' 'vanity project'. A wise project manager will recognise this very early in a project (if not right at the start) and insist on a senior management project sponsor (who really will champion the project), then work with them to obtain organisational support. If they can't get this they must recommend cancelling the project due to the high probability/high impact risk of project disaster. This is not as easy as it sounds if the person asking you to manage the project is your boss, but hey, the reason we love project management is the challenge. If we wanted an easy life we would be line managers!  Failure to do this is just poor project management, the lack of top management support is a screaming symptom of an unwanted or unneeded project.

The Project(s)
For reasons outside of my control I have had to cancel the on-line course development project for Cassel. This is really disappointing as not only was I enjoying the experience, but I have now had to let a customer down. They have been kind enough to leave the door open for me if the circumstances change in future.

The only positive I can take from this is that I can now concentrate on my other project: working with David Morris on a revised version of Agile Project Management in easy steps, which he will be taking over after this release. We are due to complete the work on this by the end of January so it's quite tight, but hey, didn't I just say that's why we love being project managers.

Take care and enjoy your projects.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Scope Creep

Why Projects Really Fail
Unless it is an agile project (where the objectives are expected to change), scope creep or slow death by a thousand change requests will grind any project into the dust. Wise project managers recognise when this is starting to happen and blow a very loud whistle. 

It comes down to a simple binary choice. Freeze the scope and implement the project as is and see if there is sufficient business justification for a follow on project to implement the additional requirements; or cancel the project and consider starting it again once the objectives can be agreed. Failure to do this is poor project management, the changing objectives merely a symptom of this.

The Projects
Effective Project Management on-line training course (for Classle): I'm starting to get the hang of things now (particularly Audacity for recording the audio) and I am now onto Module 4 (Planning). Great fun.

Agile Project Management in easy steps: I'm doing this revised version jointly with David Morris and I'm currently waiting for David let me have the next batch of updates now he is back in New Zealand.

Meanwhile have a happy and successful New Year.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Poor Communications Skills

Why Projects Really Fail (continued)
Poor communications skills is an absolute killer. If the project manager does not have good communication skills the project will probably turn into a disaster. Wise project managers work on their communication skills and get themselves sent on courses if they need help. 

Failure to do so is just poor project management. By now you should have started to see where this is going.

The Project
Meantime I am cracking on with the course development for Classle and getting the hang of Audacity (a really useful free audio tool). I managed to get module two completed on Christmas eve and hopefully module three next week.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fuzzy Objectives

Why Projects Really Fail
To continue the story: most of the projects I have run over the years have started out with fairly fuzzy objectives, as at the start of the project it is only an idea for a business change or improvement. During the early stages of a project the key aim is to refine these objectives by talking to all the stakeholders and gradually developing them into a detailed set of business requirements, which can be agreed and signed off by all parties. 

Wise project managers get this thrashed out and nailed down before any serious work on the project begins. Failure to do this is just poor project management and the fuzzy objectives leading to misunderstandings and the development of the wrong things are just a symptom of this.

The Project
I have now signed a memorandum of understanding with Classle and produced the first course module. I'm aiming to have the whole course ready by the end of February for release in March and I'm really enjoying it (although January is likely to be a bit hectic as I'm also working with my son David on an update to Agile Project Management in easy steps, which is due by the end of January). Ah well a bit of pressure always makes things exciting!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Unrealistic Estimates

Why Projects Really Fail
To continue the story: when I originally carried out my research into failed projects, the number one reason given (on around 80% of failed projects) was unrealistic estimates. But why would so many estimates  be wrong? 

Well arguably all estimates are wrong as they are just that, estimates, but somehow that seems to get forgotten in the heat of the project. Typically people forecast work and costs based on past experience but they forget two important things: 1) at the start of a project there are a lot of unknowns that will only be discovered later on in the project; and 2) things will go wrong during the course of the project. Failure to allow for these two factors will hamstring the project estimates and of course the schedules that are based on them from the outset. 

Wise project managers load their early estimates with lots of contingency (although we cunningly disguise it) to cover for this. They then re-estimate the remaining work on the project at regular intervals and gradually reduce the level of contingency as it is used up. Failure to do this is just poor project management and the unrealistic estimates are merely a symptom of this.

The last time I was responsible for managing a team of project managers I used to take their first time and cost estimates for a project, write my estimate on it and seal it in an envelope and give it to the financial director to put in their safe until the project was completed. We would then open the envelope and see who was closest to the actual time and cost. I’m unhappy to say it was always me but that wasn’t down to my estimating skill, I simply doubled their estimates.

More on this subject next week, meanwhile...

The Project
I mentioned last week that I had received an approach from an on-line training company called Classel and things are progressing in that direction. So it looks like I have found myself another project.