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.

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.