10 signs your project is in trouble

I was just reading a study of Project Failures which got me thinking about the warning signs. The following are true warning signs and issues I have had or witnessed in my Project Management career.

Project Frustration

You know your project is in trouble when:
1. The project team was just assigned but the customer wanted this 6 months ago. And the deadline isn’t changing from the original.
2. Your project team is very unhappy because the project has this overly aggressive schedule.
3. You have some team members that don’t like each other – to the point they are acting like 5 year olds asking you to remove the other team member. Time to provide a lecture on being a good team member (and acting like a grownup).
4. Your sponsor is nowhere to be seen – has completely dropped his or her sponsorship of the project.
5. One of the team members has developed a mantra: “I will have that done tomorrow”. This task was due last month!
6. The project contract has a specification that is tighter than the spec your team felt they could meet.
7. Your designer has kept a secret from you: that he doesn’t have a clue how to design the solution.
8. Your stakeholders selected the software – very thorough analysis of alternatives involving tons of people and tons of hours. They selected the application that will work much better than any alternatives. Unfortunately, that is not the application you are implementing. At the last minute an executive informed you that you were to buy one of the alternatives. He claimed that, as a company, we only purchase from this major software vendor.
9. Stakeholders are not happy about this change but they are happy to tell you they don’t want this change.
10. You day-dream a good deal about changing careers.

Men Rowing on Placid River

Some ideas around these project issues:
• Good risk management is important. At the beginning of the project work to determine what can go wrong and what you will do about each risk. This is not just for the PM to do but the entire project team will be valuable in working on this.
• Thorough stakeholder analysis and management will help avoid users that don’t want to use the new system or process.
• Research has shown that a project with no sponsor is more likely to fail that a project with a strong sponsor.
• Communication, communication, communication – with the project team, the sponsors, the stakeholders
o This includes communicating problems – along with what needs to be done to solve the problems.
• If faced with aggressive schedules make sure this is included in your list of risks. This is a difficult issue. The customer always wants it asap and meeting all goals and high quality and in budget. That is a daunting task!
What signs of project trouble have you had? And what did you do about it?

5 Reasons People don’t like Change

Projects are about improving or fixing things. So it should be easy to get people excited about the change that comes from the completion of a project, right? Not really. People don’t change. Status quo is easier. Here are the top reasons people are resistant to change.
1. Preparing for the change requires a lot of work. We have to learn new processes, systems, and new ways of doing things. This causes anxiety – what if I can’t do my job as well after the process changes? What if the new system is impossible to use?
2. There are uncertainties around change. We really don’t know how things are going to go after the changes are put in place. Uncertainty is scary!
3. The organization usually tells us why this is good for the business, or sometimes not. But what does it do for me? We don’t always get that message and lets face it, what’s in it for me matters. We have to take time out of our very busy schedules to get ready for the change so it helps to have strong motivation. Sometimes leaders don’t provide that motivation.
4. Many of the C levels in organizations didn’t get to the top by worrying about people’s feelings. They are not the touchy-feely type (I didn’t say everyone). They do know how to network and they can be friendly but the CFO doesn’t need to be expert in HR. So worrying about whether the people of the organization have concerns about the major changes in progress often isn’t at the top of the Executive to do list. Unfortunately, you can’t ignore that the people of the organization have to change and there are going to be some negative opinions about almost any change. This has to be taken into consideration and dealt with. Managers have to talk to their reports to understand concerns!

Sunset on the Beach

Sunset on the Beach


5. It could be that the people really understand and want the change. However, if major changes often fail in the organization, there is no trust that this project is going to succeed or even be completed. And one thing we all don’t like is feeling like we are doing a lot of work for something that might be abandoned or just won’t work.
So most Change Management theories say you must win the people of the organization over that the change is great, will be successful and will improve the lives of the members of the organization. Promoting the change as a marketing campaign (with the organization as the audience) can work wonders.

Are you achieving your Strategy? Lifecycle Process Management can help

The Business Need

Sound strategic planning is fundamental to achieving business objectives. Execution of the strategy is difficult and the complexities created by out of sync and competing activities, processes, functional groups and systems across the organization create many obstacles on the road to success. Constant change, corporate politics, functional silos and many other factors affect progress toward business objectives.

A sound business plan and clearly defined goals are essential, but the key to successful execution is understanding how to accomplish those goals. This paper looks at process relationships and information flow across the business from strategic planning to achievement of the strategy, from great ideas to benefits realization. To ensure the business efficiently and effectively achieves its strategy; the organization must optimize the outcomes from their processes across the entire life-cycle.

While organizations put emphasis on improvement of individual processes, improvement across processes and systems is often neglected. This big picture transformation is more difficult to tackle. Over time, standalone systems, functional stovepipes and constant change cause issues around data, communication, processes, systems and performance. While this task of analyzing and improving the full life-cycle is difficult, the results are very valuable to the organization.

The Life-cycle Answers:
• Strategic Planning – How can the organization succeed?
• Portfolio Management – What should we be doing to achieve our strategy? How do we maximize ROI?
• Project Management – How do we best achieve these things we should be doing?
• Operations – are we effectively putting the plans in place for ongoing operations?

The Business Issues

Virtually every organization has information fragmented in multiple repositories and enterprise applications. Many obstacles keep organizations from meeting their basic needs for efficient operations, strategic alignment and profitability. Common business issues include:

Process Issues:
o Inefficient
o Duplication of effort and disconnected processes
o No standardization, documentation or understanding of process
o Poor metrics and poor performance
Data Issues
o Insufficient or bad data
o Difficulty in obtaining data
o No authoritative source of data, duplicate entry
Technical Issues
o Insufficient applications and infrastructure to support best practice processes
o Disparate applications and systems

The Holistic view of the full life-cycle
Strategic Planning, Portfolio Management, Project Management, Program Management and Operations make up the life-cycle from concept to benefits realization. These processes exchange critical information. All of these processes contribute to achievement of strategy, thus are critical to business success.

Weaknesses in any of these areas will result in problems in the other areas as there is information feeds and dependencies between these functions. In addition, the processes in each of these major areas must be efficient and must provide quality information to the other areas.
Typical Process Area Issues:
• Strategic Planning – Objectives may not be clear and not understood by the organization and the Organization may not be able to interpret the strategy into what needs to be done.
• Portfolio Management – Many organizations don’t use objective criteria for investment selection which results in a Portfolio that is not optimized. The Portfolio may not be sized correctly to match resource capacity to demand.
• Project Management – There may be overlapping and redundant projects. There may be resource conflicts, priority conflicts and poor performance.
• Operations – Transition process may not be sufficient for a smooth roll-out. Rush to get to production can result in problems after roll-out.

The strategic goals are meaningless to the organization unless they are clear, understood by all and interpreted into the activities (Portfolio Management: selected projects) required to achieve the goals. This means that executives should not throw high-level strategic goals out to the organization with the directive to make it happen. Instead, they should have a clear idea of the major activities designed to meet the strategic objectives to ensure the organization is headed in the right direction. Leaders in Strategic Planning and Portfolio Management can work together to clearly connect the strategy with the required tactical activity.

Is it working? – Performance Management
Performance Management is an element in each of the processes as metrics and analysis are required to ensure each area is achieving its goals and to ensure benefits realization from the system as a whole. For decision makers, Portfolio Management will provide benefits realization metrics including financial benefits. Portfolio Management measures progress toward corporate goals based on the metrics for each goal and reports this information to Strategic Planning/Executives. For each Project, metrics will be established to ensure the project team is meeting the project goals. Project Performance is measured and analyzed to develop corrective actions and ensure risks are managed. This Performance information is reviewed in Project and Program reviews to ensure Project Management performance is optimized. Performance information is fed from the Project Management system to the Portfolio Management system (and/ or the Program Management system) to allow decision-making for the portfolio and programs. In Portfolio reviews, project performance is taken into consideration and failing projects may be stopped.

Where has this solution been applied and what were the results?

A division of a government agency required an analysis of all applications, systems, processes and data across life-cycle management. The analysis showed they had legacy systems that were no longer supported, high maintenance homemade tools (requiring frequent coding), applications that only had a handful of users, standalone applications for each process, data entered manually in more than one application and manual processes. The analysis led to corrective actions to eliminate or retire systems, automate and streamline processes and data feeds and implement a more robust infrastructure. An IT/ Process Roadmap was developed to provide the needed solution concept and plan.

A large company had merged many other companies into the organization. There were many scattered databases, duplication of effort, re-packaging of information for different levels of the organization, different databases, processes, and reports across the same functions. Excessive time was spent manually generating reports in preparation for management decision-making meetings. There were no standard project performance metrics across the enterprise. Portfolio management had been developed using a very complex process involving numerous Excel spreadsheets. A new life-cycle was designed to standardize and automate Project Management, Portfolio Management, IT Governance and Financial Management across the merged businesses. This solution brought all the data for these processes into a centralized database, providing greatly improved efficiency, improved data accuracy, cost and labor savings and elimination of non-value added work.

Building the Holistic Life-cycle Solution

How do you build the holistic life-cycle process to optimize sharing information across processes, eliminate duplication of tasks, and improve each process while optimizing across all processes? First, ensure high-level sponsorship with a clear understanding of the value of this effort from the top down. As this solution provides both strategic and tactical benefit and provides significant financial benefit, this holistic approach should be an easy “sell” to the leaders of the organization. However, the new life-cycle design may require breaking down barriers between functions and may bring major changes in governance and decision-making. Good Change Management planning can help ensure success of the new solution.

By mapping the current processes, systems and data flow, you will reveal gaps, duplications and problem areas. Analysis of this current situation will determine required improvements to establish the optimized life-cycle. Keep in mind that the goal is to improve individual processes as well as tying the processes together and developing good information flow and process coordination across the life-cycle.

This improved life-cycle will provide benefits of strategic achievement, a portfolio of investments with the highest ROI and improved efficiency across the organization. The transformation effort is not easy to achieve but well worth the effort.

Working toward Project Success

Is there any way to guarantee project success? Absolutely not, however, examining lessons learned from past projects can reveal valuable information to help ensure project success. Here I discuss processes, procedures and people to determine how to optimize project performances. Best practice project management procedures require that planning takes time and attention. Most seasoned project managers can recall a project that failed due to rushed (or no) planning. The project manager and project team are also important to project success. What makes a good project manager or project team? Corporate culture plays a strong role in aiding or hindering quality project management. It is important to keep in mind what has and hasn’t worked in the past as you plan and implement the project.

I once lead a project, which was viewed as easy by the management and as very risky by the project team. Management continuously told us this was a piece of cake (of course they wanted to believe this!). As a good project team, we conducted risk analysis and believed this to be very risky. Amazing that those of us who were going to be working on the project knew from the start that it would be one of the hardest things we ever did. All the scary facts were there: lean staffing and a late start, the team had absolutely no experience in some aspects of the project and the requirements on our statement of work did not match the signed customer contract. In addition, morale was low because we were short of resources and schedule was tight.

The project issues got worse as time went on. A key team member quit when the project had just one month left to go and some of the team members did NOT get along. Management continued to ignore the project issues, still seeing the project as an easy win.

Some very interesting things happened on this project, which resulted in its eventual success. To improve team attitude, we attended an inspiring seminar that helped us build an improved team attitude. The seminar reminded the team that you own the results of what you do. The attitude changed from “we are doomed” to “we will make this successful.” The fact that we were seen as performing poorly was both good and bad for us. This brought morale down but motivated us to “show leadership that we could succeed”. In an effort toward motivating the team, I did something I don’t think I would recommend to others but it worked for the project. I arrived at work very early and left when the last team member left. This made for very long hours and included weekends and holidays. I learned to test and run the equipment we were building. The team appreciated my hands-on approach and this helped grow a good team relationship.

All the team’s efforts were worth it in the end as the project succeeded.  We had happy stakeholders – the customer, our management and our suppliers (as part of our team). We had the satisfaction of knowing we had done well despite all obstacles.

Lessons Learned

What caused this project’s success? First we had a strong commitment to project goals. The Project goals were simple:  1. Customer satisfaction (providing the equipment they needed on time and working to spec) and 2. Turn around our poor performance record. Customer satisfaction is always a goal but this was also our first external (outside our own organization) customer, promising a good deal of future business if we succeeded. Satisfying management would change the corporate culture as they recognized our competence and learned how to improve the culture to support project management. The team was very committed to the goals. Second, the team learned the power of teamwork and the power of strong commitment to doing things right to achieve project objectives. People understood that they could get beyond their issues with other team members by concentrating on the target – to make the project succeed. We had a good amount of discussion on the effect of dependent tasks on each other. Prior to this project, the team members focused on their own tasks without paying attention to the entire project plan. Third, we included the key stakeholders on the team. We worked with the customer both in showing the project progress as time went on as well as helping the customer in tasks they needed to complete for the project. We negotiated a mutually beneficial relationship with our vendors and included them on the project team. The vendors promised their quickest turnaround when we encountered sudden specialized needs (such as quick build of custom parts). We promised a good amount of future business to the vendors.   This stakeholder participation lowered risk, lowered scope creep, and ensure that what we produced was what the customer needed. What are other ways to ensure project success?

Working toward Successful Projects

The first phase of a project’s lifecycle is very critical to its success. It is always important to complete a project in the timeliest manner but skimping on planning can lead to project failure.  Once the project has been proven to be valuable to the organization, careful planning is needed. The stakeholders should be identified and analyzed. The key stakeholders define the project’s success criteria. Rather than rushing the planning to get on with the project and complete faster, in planning, you will find areas to trim time in implementation.

How many times have you heard people say, “we never have time to plan but we always have time to do it over”? For a project to succeed, the planning must be well thought out, thorough, documented and agreed upon. It is human nature to want to rush in and get started on a project, rather than spending considerable time planning. Yet it is well known that careful planning and project estimation is key to success of the project. Good planning can actually reduce the time required for the implementation phase. Important elements of project planning are stakeholder analysis, definition of success factors, team input and risk management planning.

Stakeholder analysis requires time and thought as there are the obvious stakeholders and the not so obvious stakeholders. There are stakeholders that determine if the project has succeeded and those that do not want the project to succeed. Among the stakeholders are people competing for your resources or with agendas that oppose your project. The Project Manager needs to formulate strategy for dealing with all stakeholders; ensuring key stakeholders participate as team members and negotiating with stakeholders that are competing for the same resources.

While the project manager and project team must bring the project in on time and in budget, this does not define success.  In the end, the customer declares the project successful or failed. For this reason, the first step in Project Management is in understanding the project’s objectives. The Project Manager and team must work very closely with the customer and all stakeholders to ensure clear understanding of the critical success factors as well as understanding stakeholder issues. From the success factors, metrics should be defined to ensure the success factors can be demonstrated at the conclusion of the project.

As part of the stakeholder analysis, identify the Executive sponsor and determine the level of support provided by this project champion. If the project does not have good executive sponsorship, it is not likely to succeed.

Sometimes the stakeholders have unrealistic expectations.  Customers almost always want it yesterday, cheap and perfect! The project’s schedule, budget or scope, as defined by the client, may not be reasonable. When we were designing custom equipment for our own company the schedule was set by the customer with no regard to how long it should take, the budget was set by the customer, based on what the customer could pay and, of course, the customer set the technical specification. Therefore, the budget, schedule, specification and stakeholder expectations were unrealistic. An example of both unrealistic expectations and improper customer strategy involved a project I was handed on my first day with a company. The project team was to design a machine that would automate work that was currently done manually. When it was transferred to me, the project was several months into its timeline with no design or concept developed. Yet, the customer thought the project was still on track. I recovered the situation by explaining the issue (while begging forgiveness) and bringing the customer onto the design team. As the customer had design concepts of his own, this plan worked out.

Throughout the Project: Managing Risk and Change

Scope creep is a big issue in project management. The project plan works for the scope of the project agreed to in the planning stage. As the project progresses, stakeholders, customers and even project team members can see opportunities to make the solution even better than originally planned. While this improvement sounds good, it will lead to cost overrun and schedule slippage. The Change Management process must be well established and must be adhered to by all involved with the project. Each change needs to be clearly documented, providing the impact to budget, schedule, resources, and risk and project results. The decision to include the change belongs to the project’s customer. On one project I managed, we decided that we should go forward with most of the customer out-of-scope changes simply to ensure customer satisfaction. This backfired on us. When the project was late and over budget, the customer saw this as project failure despite all the “free” changes we provided.

While the risk taker may not see the value to risk management planning, this is very important in project management. The risk management plan is not a document to be filed away once the planning is complete. The risks must be analyzed, documented and reviewed on a regular, ongoing basis. As the project progresses, risk mitigation activities will need to be completed as the issues occur and new risks will be discovered and included in the plan. Think of risk management planning as always having a plan A, plan B, and plan C.

Toward Successful Project Management

Best practices in Project Management require looking to the past, present and future:

  • Look to the past –remembering what has worked and what hasn’t worked.
  • In the Present – the project manager and project team must pay careful attention to all that is happening on the project t each day.
  • Look to the future  – through careful planning, adjusting as required and carrying out risk mitigation activities.

 

 

Your opinion/ feedback please

I am working on ideas for a webinar and would appreciate feedback on topics that interest you in the areas of Project Management, Project Portfolio Management, Lifecycle Management and Process Improvement. I admit I am tempted to build on topics I have written about such as the full lifecycle management from concept to realization of benefit or how Portfolio Management can improve project or PMO performance. I also appreciate ideas for blog topics. Thanks for your feedback!

How Project Portfolio Management leads to Project Success

The IT PMO of a large organization was suffering from failing projects.  The issues facing the organization were:

  • Continuous mergers and acquisitions resulted in stove-piped, independent businesses with no incentive to work toward common goals,
  • Division between Business and IT,
  • Resistance to change,
  • No application/ systems standards (multiple solutions for the same capability),
  • No view of resource capacity/ demand,
  • No single view of all projects,
  • Failing projects.

The problem:

Important projects were not getting done.  With no prioritization and no view of true resource demand/ capacity, low-value projects were gobbling up resources needed by high-value projects. This caused the more valuable projects to be stalled or stopped in mid-implementation. This also resulted in corners being cut when project managers tried to shotgun projects through the lifecycle to ensure they did not lose precious resources. Project planning was one key phase that was shortened or skipped altogether , leading to a higher rate of project failure.

Projects under a certain budget limit could be submitted and were automatically put in the project queue to be resourced within a week. Anyone could submit a project request and provide very minimal supporting information.

What didn’t work:

The organization had tried different methods for prioritizing (such as having the head of finance label projects as high-, medium-, or low-priority). However, these methods yielded only top-priority rankings for virtually all projects.

For higher cost projects, IT Governance did exist. In the fall of each year, the IT site directors would provide business case information for projects they wanted to implement in the coming year. The regional leader would review and accept the projects he or she deemed priority for the site; and an oversight committee eliminated additional projects from the plan to lower the total site budget to match what they could allocate. The results of these meetings determined each site’s budget. In the following year, the sites were free to substitute other projects for those that had been approved, making this an exercise in obtaining funding, not in proper portfolio planning.

The Fix:

The PMO leaders determined that the two main issues to be resolved were lack of resource management and prioritization. They concluded that implementing project portfolio management could resolve both issues and result in successful planning and project management.

The goals for the Portfolio Management implementation were as follows:

  • Tie projects to the corporate strategy,
  • Develop business cases for all proposed projects,
  • View projects across all sites to determine opportunities to combine efforts,
  • Improve project planning,
  • Develop solutions standards:
    • Catalog accepted applications for specific capabilities.

They developed a model for scoring project requests which would serve as the basis for prioritization. The model was based on research of best practices in the industry and tied to the organization’s strategy. Once the model was in place, it was used to prioritize the projects submitted for the yearly budget to demonstrate to the decision makers why they should fund the proposed projects. They now had clear insight into what should be done (prioritization) and what could be done (resource management). Including portfolio management in the project lifecycle greatly improved the organization’s ability to successfully implement projects. It is well known that Portfolio Management is intended to maximize the benefit from an organization’s portfolio of projects; but it also helps ensure project success by “sizing” the portfolio to fit the available resources.

Why do we need a method for prioritizing the investments of our business? How Portfolio Management helps

Why is Portfolio Management a good idea?

People have lots of ideas to make their businesses better.
Sometimes these ideas don’t work out so well once implemented. That’s pretty
much why I’m so interested in Portfolio Management. In my career in project management,
I have implemented several projects that didn’t have solid business cases for
the investments. In fact, I have managed projects that I felt were doomed to
fail; but the policy was that if the organization wanted the project
implemented, it was to be done.

Here are some examples of ideas that should have been fully
vetted:

  • The plant wants a specific manual operation
    automated – put in a request, and a machine will be built!

    • The engineers tasked with the project weren’t
      allowed to perform a feasibility study or voice their gut opinion that it
      probably wasn’t going to meet the factory’s tight specifications . It’s not a
      good feeling to build something that you suspect will eventually be scrap!
    • Under the concept of implementing something that
      should provide more profit for the business:

      • Our airline needs more money, so let’s start
        charging for soft drinks, water and juice. We get all the profit from that.

        • Did they think customers would like that?
  • We have been offering videos and streaming in
    one package. We can make more money if we break these offerings up and charge
    the customers more.

    • Again, if the customers don’t like the idea, it
      doesn’t work.
  • Let’s make our product taste just like the
    competition’s product.

    • But our product is already the leader in the
      industry!
    • Why can’t we fix things before they break?
      • This was actually a very sound request from
        middle management:  They proposed plans
        to take preventive measures and plan for the end of life for equipment.  However, the organization’s leaders couldn’t
        grasp the potential savings and efficiency of this concept, so the plan wasn’t
        implemented.
      • I don’t want prioritization. I just want a
        percentage increase in budget every year and then I’ll do what I want with the
        funds. (Guess what – I also don’t want people to know what I do with the money
        just in case my plans don’t work out.)
      • One product that became a failure in its target
        market had come from a company executive’s wife.

        • “It sounds like a good idea” isn’t really a business case!

These examples point to the reasons why Portfolio Management
works. Portfolio Management determines how to objectively judge which
investments will provide the best return and help the organization meet its
strategic goals. The Portfolio Management process requires justification for
spending. This seems like a very logical concept and, in fact, it is. However,
many organizations still don’t have structured approaches for deciding what
gets funded. Many times it’s simply a matter of leaders discussing pet
projects. Sometimes those who have the most influence or scream the loudest get
their projects funded. These leaders see Portfolio Management as a threat to
the strategy that is currently working for them. In fact, I have seen Portfolio
Management implementations sabotaged by people who didn’t want to lose their
budgets because they would be required to justify their allocations.

What kind of bad ideas have you seen implemented? How does
your organization make decisions to fund projects?