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?

What do leaders need? Determination, charisma and the ability to motivate

Last night I was claiming that we really needed to YouTube my husband’s last minute “project”. Our cork screw had broken and we had a bottle of Chardonnay that really needed to be opened! My engineering husband would not take the five minute trip to the store to get a new cork screw, no, this was an opportunity to be creative. Well, also a great opportunity to play with his tools. He went back and forth to the garage about 5 times but finally successfully opened the wine. He got the job done – and under difficult circumstances. And that is definitely something that leaders are often called upon to do. I believe I have developed leadership skills through difficult tasks, where I learned very quickly what works and what doesn’t. There was the time I went into a consulting engagement and quickly found out that there had been several consultants on the project before trying to satisfy the customer but no succeeding. My contracting company had told me very clearly what they needed me to do. The IT customer told me that was absolutely not what he wanted. The business customer wanted something else altogether. This was a case where I needed my people skills and determination to ensure we got quick wins despite the lack of agreement on the solution.
Charisma is a great characteristic of leaders. People are drawn to the leader and anxious to hear what he or she has to say. I was reminded of this over the weekend when I saw pictures of my 8 year old grandson in a tux, looking like he has worn tuxes all his life. In that tux, carrying it off like he is a very important person, he looks like a future leader of the world! I hear he did some great dancing also!
dog-training-tucson-photo
I have always felt that motivation is also a key in leadership. A motivating leader will get the best work out of the organization. I learned this early so that motivating others has been a key to successful transformations over the years. I find motivating people fairly easy and enjoyable. It requires listening and understanding people as individuals. It results in people feeling good and that’s a good thing.

My husband’s crazy project last night motivated me to write this blog, I figured other people might get a kick out of it. Then I had to mention the grandson because I seriously was surprised at how he looked so comfortable and commanding in his tux. I didn’t work out an analogy relating to the other big thing in my weekend – we dog sat 4 wiener dogs. That made household count of dogs at 6 as we have 2 of our own. People outnumbered 3 to 1. You will find it surprising but true – 6 dachshunds barking in unison can be very loud. Just ask my neighbor. I guess I would have to say that dachshunds can show great determination. Thursday night they were determined to NOT go to sleep and to keep us up with them. They succeeded! Considering they are much smaller than us, I would say they were showing great leadership!

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.

We are swamped in change and can’t take anymore!

They say change is constant but what if that is causing the people in your organization to be very grumpy and unhappy? What can we do about change initiatives and about change across the organization? Persuasion, motivation, and listening are good answers! Here are some ideas for helping people work through change in initiatives and across the organization.
• Create Hope
We all know things get better and things get worse, most everything in life is cyclical. Picture the glorious outcome when you successfully change. Think about the movie Pay it forward. I know that when you saw the movie, you thought that was a brilliant idea. Decide to be happy and pay it forward. Ok, before you stop reading this, I know you can’t just decide to be happy and it is as easy as that! Believe me I get that. But please read on, I am hoping to get you to smile!
I used to be a self-help book junkie. If there was a problem, the answer was in a book. So if all else fails, write to me and I will recommend a book. What really made me thing about self-help was that we know what the organization should do to turn things around but we can’t single handedly save the organization. What we have is control over is what we do and think and our own happiness for the most part. We determine how to react to change. When there is too much change (change saturation), managers and leaders need to have an open door policy to get feedback and help employees work through change. The leaders need to recognize change saturation as it leads to failed initiatives, productivity loss and the best people start leaving the company. If your company isn’t handling this correctly, you take control of how you feel about things or you hate going to work.
• Are things really that bad?
Think about it. You aren’t stranded in a boat with an imaginary friend (Cast Away).
I read a great article this morning about a college student writing home to mom and dad. She first tells them to sit down while they are reading the letter (a scary start!). She then proceeds to tell them how she was injured when she jumped out of her dorm window because the place was on fire. While she was in the hospital for 2 weeks, she met a nice guy who let her stay in his basement when she got out because she couldn’t go back to her burnt down dorm. She fell in love and is going to marry the guy because she is pregnant. By this point in the letter mom and/or dad 1. Have fainted or 2. Are having a heart attack or are 3. Beet red and banging their head on the wall. The girl goes on to say that none of this is true but she is getting one D and one F. Great tactic for putting things in perspective! The truth wasn’t as bad as the original story.
Today, I was thinking about the cliché “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. I must be stronger because I am not dead and it has been one of those weeks. It is all about how you look at things.
• Why are we doing this?
That is the big question. Command and control management doesn’t work anymore in most industries. Once you start empowering people they take command of their job and ask a lot of questions. They aren’t going along with you until you answer that question. People internalize change. Moving out of our current state comfort zone takes persuasion. Sell the change. When you talk to your people about the reasons for the change and you start seeing that light come into their eyes, you have finally answered the question why should I do this?
I heard the psychiatrist/ patient light bulb joke turned around last week: How many employees does it take to change a light bulb? One but he/she has to want to change! In reality, before the change takes in an organization, almost everyone who needs to change will also need to want the change.

Three year olds and surfers

The other day I was thinking I could get a 3 year old to eat something he had not tried before. My husband just laughed and reminded me that the child’s favorite word is no and trying new things has never been a priority for kids. He was right. Little kids are very change resistant, especially when it comes to food that looks healthy.

We don’t get any better about change when we grow up. We all like our comfort zone.

But we all know that change is constant and usually targeted at improvement. So we need to be like surfers, not 3 year olds. When I was on vacation this year we stayed on the beach. When we got up the surfers were already out there waiting for waves. And all day they were out there ready and waiting for the big change (a big wave) to come along. Of course we don’t really want to wait for change, we need to make positive change happen. I think there is great power in having an organizational culture that understands the dynamics of change and how best to implement change successfully. To ensure this, the organization needs competency in Change Management and buy-in for change at all levels of the organization. It works, I have seen it happen. I have also seen big losses caused by ignoring change management.

So we don’t want to be like 3 year olds and we don’t want to be patient surfers just waiting for change. Like people who turn houses, we need to always be making things better.

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.