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?

Why in the world do we need change management?

I hear this question often so I have come up with ideas to help those of us who believe in Change Management convince others of the value.

Background:
Most projects involve people changing. They have to use new technology or they have to use a new process or maybe take on a whole new role because of a reorganization. There are many scenarios and we all know that change takes us out of our comfort zone. You may even have change saturation in the organization.

Why do we need change management? That is touchy feely stuff!
For a new process or technology project, or both, the ROI is generally based on the assumption that users will adopt to the change at go live and will be proficient. What if the people aren’t ready or are resistant to change? Your return will be pushed out and will not be what you expected.

Loss of productivity is an issue whenever you upset the status quo. When people are anxious about a change or resistant to the change, productivity goes down. By working with people to understand the root cause of the resistance, you can minimize this negative impact by helping people understand the business value and personal benefit of the change.

Ultimately projects can fail when change is not handled properly. People can revert to the old way of doing things. There are many business cases out there about major losses caused by failure to pay attention to the people side of the project and properly bring the individuals of the organization through the change.

In summary, Organizational Change Management enables transition to achieve and sustain the desired business strategy and drives ROI through:
– Accelerating the Adoption Curve
– Ensuring Proficiency
– Minimizing the dip in Productivity
– Increasing project success

Let me know if you have other ideas for “selling” change management to those who don’t get 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.

How are your IT Systems and Applications Performing?

A thorough analysis of IT applications and systems in most organizations should reveal many opportunities for savings and improved efficiencies. Application rationalization is a process in which an organization’s IT assets are thoroughly reviewed and analyzed to develop a plan for improvements across all systems. Application Portfolio Management (APM) is a process to maintain and optimize the Portfolio of applications and systems.

The Business Drivers for Application Portfolio Management

What are the issues and concerns addressed by Application Rationalization and Application Portfolio Management? The table below shows the issues from the Business Leaders, users, IT Management and software management perspectives.

Issues Driving the Need for Application Rationalization and ongoing Application Portfolio analysis
Business Leaders:
•Inefficient Legacy Systems
•Costly Maintenance
•Business Interruption from System downtime
•Business needs not being met by the IT Initiatives
IT Customer Complaints:
•Takes too long to get information
•Data accuracy is suspect
•Technology issues are affecting the efficiency of the business Processes.
•Cannot obtain reports needed in a timely manner.
•Manual data entry and re-entry is required.
IT Management Pains:
•The IT Asset inventory is too large to be maintained by the limited IT resources.
•The Business does not see the value added from IT investments – Results in IT not having sufficient funds to complete required improvements.
•Database Centralization is needed as data is entered in more than one place manually or kept in individual spreadsheets, or paper forms.
•Systems are not Retired prior to the point where they fail.
Software Management Issues:
•Costs include unused licenses as the license tracking process is inefficient.
•Software is in use that is no longer supported by the vendor.
•Maintenance costs are out of control.
•Duplicate applications for the same purpose.
•Underutilized applications that should be eliminated.

Application rationalization looks at the business processes along with the IT systems, analyzing procedural issues as well as system issues to determine what needs to be improved or fixed.

What Application Portfolio Management does for the business
Application Portfolio Management extends the value of IT to the business by ensuring IT is meeting the business needs. Application Rationalization will provide cost savings and improved efficiency of business processes.

Application Rationalization optimizes the operation of the IT systems and applications, ensures data accuracy and ensures compliance with regulations. From the business perspective, the analysis ties IT to the business strategy and streamlines and improves processes.

Inventory
The first step in the process is to inventory all applications, systems and processes. Questions to be answered for the entire application inventory include:
• How are the applications being used and who uses them?
• What processes does each application support?
• What data is input and output to the application?
• What is being spent to maintain, support, upgrade?
• What is the business value of the application?
• What strategic objectives does the application contribute to?
• What are the technical requirements?
• What is the level of customer satisfaction with the application or system.
• What is the risk associated with the application or system.
• Is there sufficient support for the system?
• Is the system managed and supported well?
Answers to these questions provide a clearer understanding of the state of the IT assets.

Analysis
Application Portfolio Management requires thorough analysis of processes, operations, data and systems to enable good decision making regarding plans for the IT systems and applications. The analysis should look at the relationship of each asset to process, function, capability and data input and output.
Tools used for the analysis include:
• Process flow diagrams,
• Entity Relationship Diagrams for each application,
• Application budget and support costs
• Enterprise Architecture,
• functional and technical specs, user lists,
• help desk data,
• Database Analysis (requirements and data map)
• Data/ Process/ App/ System Relationships
• Associated Process information (process efficiency etc.)
Analysis of this information will identify redundant capability, costly assets (high cost to maintain), determine underutilized assets and highlight downtime issues. This analysis will be combined with the process analysis to determine required activities to optimize the portfolio.

With regard to process, the first questions to be answered: are the processes written and are they accurate? Just like applications, processes need to be easy to use and follow. Feedback from those who use the processes will determine which processes need re-engineering. A review of all processes together will determine gaps, overlaps and areas where the process flow is not optimal. This analysis will also determine opportunities for process automation.

Data accuracy and accessibility are essential to efficiency. Is data entered in more than one place? This would indicate opportunities for integration of systems. Users need to confirm that data is easy to find.

While data is gathered separately for applications and systems, processes and data, the information must be cross referenced. It is important to look at the relationships between the processes, applications and data. Which applications support which processes? What data is collected for each process? Are there labor intensive processes that can be automated? The Application Portfolio analysis will determine improvements for processes, applications, database structure and data collection. Decisions will be made to upgrade, sunset, combine and replace applications.

The analysis provided in application rationalization provides a great opportunity for IT to provide business value in cost savings and improved efficiency. Establishment of an ongoing Application Portfolio Management process ties IT to business as it clearly demonstrates the business value of the IT strategic plan.

Application Portfolio Management is an ongoing process requiring update to the inventory, information, analysis and recommendations as capabilities are added and as applications are retired. In addition, the Application Portfolio must be monitored and re-evaluated to ensure it is contributing to the business strategy.

Is your Strategy up to date?

For awhile my husband and son have been telling me I should put my “sports commentaries” in a blog post. This refers to my comments during various sports they are watching while I am waiting for the game to be over so I can watch something else! Before you write me off as a nut, I do like watching sports, just not some of them and I prefer being at the game. When you are waiting for a game to be over, it seems to go on forever. So during the time outs, I provide my comments: gee, is the coach telling them to hit more home runs, get more baskets or touchdowns? I know it is not that simple. But I also don’t like the way time outs make the game so much less spontaneous!

So here is a sports analogy. These sports teams are taking time out to strategize when something is going wrong. When a business is struggling, they usually regroup and try to figure the best strategy to resolve the issue. Sometimes this results in a knee jerk solution versus a strategic solution.

We all know change is constant, so review and analysis of changes in the industry, market, opportunities, trending and competition should be an ongoing part of the business. And this analysis should bring about new strategy to stay on top of the market. So just as in sports, business needs to change direction as external and internal events effect the business. In the past, annual strategic planning worked for businesses, not anymore! While change is constant, strategic planning and thinking must be ongoing.

While I get frustrated with the interruption in games caused by changing strategy, I think frequent strategic planning in business is not an interruption but a valuable, necessary part of business. And of course, as in sports, the strategy must be interpreted into what needs to be done to meet the new goals. The question must be asked often, are we doing the right things now to ensure ongoing success?

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!