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.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Reasons for Project Failure

Let’s start with why we traditionally think projects go wrong. In 2009 I first published my top nine reasons for project failure in “Project Management in easy steps”. These were based on my own experience and other published research, they were:

Unrealistic estimates
Fuzzy objectives
Poor communications skills
Changing objectives (scope creep)
Lack of top management support
Poor leadership
Lack of stakeholder ownership
Poorly defined responsibilities
Lack of resources

Recent studies might suggest the addition of inadequate risk management to the list.
Clearly a case can be made for most of these problems leading to an increased risk of project failure. But I find myself wondering if we are just looking at symptoms of problems rather than causes. Are there any problems on that list that an effective project manager cannot deal with? And if these are not the causes of failure, then what is?

More next week...

Meantime I had an interesting contact this week from Shivram at Classle regarding putting a project management course on-line, sounds interesting, so I am pursuing it.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Why Projects Really Fail

I decided I would submit a paper for the PMI Netherlands Summit and I've also sent them the outline of the proposed talk, titled: Why Projects Really Fail (and what we need to do about it). I've decided that if they don't want to include it I will publish it as an article anyhow. If they do decide to include it I will wait until after the event to publish it.

In the meantime I will introduce the topic on this blog and see what sort of feedback I get. So here are my starting thoughts:

Why Projects Really Fail (and what we need to do about it)
I believe that everyone in the project management community agrees that far too many projects go wrong. There have been many surveys into the reasons for project failure over the years and their findings are usually consistent so it would seem that we also think we know why projects fail and have done for some time. But despite this projects still keep going wrong, so why do we keep on making the same mistakes? 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bonfire Night

Topsham Rugby Club have one of, if not the finest bonfire nights and firework displays in the South West of England and this year I volunteered to help. It was all fairly hectic on the night and we held a wash up meeting on Wednesday to review it. Just like a post project review and there were a lot of interesting learnings from it but I want to pick just one:

In previous years I understand it was run on a fairly dictatorial manner with one person pulling all the strings. This year we just trusted the team to get on with things and lo and behold it worked! So the way is once again vindicated!

I'm really looking forward to next year as I'll be able to get more actively involved in the planning. All the best for now.

Friday, October 17, 2014

PMI Netherlands Summit

I was pleased once again to be invited to join the PMI Netherlands Summit blog team for 2015. In the immortal words of the song: "This could be the last time."

This year's PMI Netherlands Summit 2014 was again a success for the PMI Netherlands Chapter and CKC Seminars and, based on this, they are already preparing for the next edition on:

Thursday, June 11th 2015 
Conference Center Spant! in Bussum, The Netherlands

The central theme of the 2015 edition is: The secret of Project Management; next practices demystified (and I am all for demystifying project management).

Conference Themes 
The 2015 Summit will be looking ahead to Project Management circa 2025. What is the secret of successful project management, what are those next practices we need to adopt? During the Summit they will demystify next practices from a scientific and real-life perspective on the basis of: excellent organizations; excellent (virtual) teams; excellent project managers; and next practices deployed.

Call for Papers
The program committee are inviting practitioners to become a part of this leading conference on Project Management by submitting an innovative best practice or workshop in line with the above themes. Duration of each session to be 40 minutes (including questions). 

If you would like to submit a suggestion, take a look at the conditions on their web site and submit your paper before October 30th 2014. The program board will review the papers and submitter’s will receive a notification of acceptance no later than November 6th 2014. 

If you do not plan to submit a paper, but are interested in attending the conference, there is an early bird discount of €50 available and PMI members also qualify for a special discount (see the registration form).

In either event visit for full details and I hope to see you at the conference. I may even submit a paper myself.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Ending and Beginning

Last week’s blog (81) was a reflection on the last chapter of the Tao so we have come to the end of the cycle, but out of the ending comes a new beginning.  Life, learning and project management are very much like the four seasons:  

We are born and try things out to see what happens and through this we begin to understand how things work.  

We continue to develop, ripen and blossom into maturity.  

We grow older, wiser and start to reflect on our experiences.  

We have fulfilled our purpose so we wither and die.  But out of death comes rebirth and the cycle is repeated.  

The Way  
Lao Tzu encouraged his followers to observe and seek to understand the laws of nature. Over the years I tried to pass that wisdom on through the project management courses I developed and ran, but without much success.  I now understand that the Way cannot be taught in the same way as project management methodology, it can only be observed and understood by someone who is willing to open their mind.  Hopefully, reading this blog has helped you to open your mind, observe and perhaps understand a little more.  For me winter is approaching, now it is your turn to pass on that wisdom to others.  The Way is in front of you, be confident:  

The Way is not complex:  
Follow the simplest path for it is The Way.  

Be open with your team,  
And they will be open with you.  
Be one with the universe,  
And the universe will be one with you.  

The wise project manager is humble,  
He knows the team does the work.  
He respects and acknowledges the team, 
And they in turn respect and acknowledge him.  

The poor project manager seeks fame,  
The wise project manager seeks inner peace.  
With fame come problems,  
With inner peace comes understanding.  

The poor project manager worries about what to do next,  
The wise project manager relishes not doing.  
When nothing needs to be done,  
Do nothing, for this is the way of the project manager.  

One or two of you have been kind enough to say you hope I will continue this blog.  I will not repeat the cycle but I will put out the occasional post for as long as I am able.