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.

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.

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.

The Power of Owning your Results

I was recently asked what did I learn early that I have been able to use throughout my career. My answer is the power of taking ownership of your results.

This goes back to a time when I was in an organization where people were very de-motivated. Things just weren’t going well. We were doing some projects that we really didn’t think we should be doing (weren’t feasible) but we had no choice. We had to do what top management said to do.

At one point we landed a very big project with a good deal of risk, visibility and pressure from our top leader. We had a very lean project team and a very tight schedule. There were team members that didn’t get along. Since many team members were thinking more about polishing up their resumes and getting out of this job nightmare, I was very worried about our ability to pull this off. But I am a stubborn and determined Project Manager.

This will sound crazy but stay with me! I took these very cynical Engineers to a motivational presentation. I expected that most of them would just be happy to get away from the office for a day but they listened and really got it. What we brought back to the office was the concept that we owned the results of our work. We, as a team, could do this successfully if we all stepped up and agreed that we were going to ensure success. We realized we had control of our destiny. We were very motivated.

And it worked so it is a very cool story! We had all kinds of trouble (such as learning curve for all the new things we had to figure out, one key team member left one month before the end of the project et.) and worked more than we ever had (many long hours). We were successful, the project was on time and the top leaders were very impressed!
So when I am trying to turn around negative attitude in the workplace and get people motivated, I remind people that things don’t happen to us, we make things happen. A little bit corny but it works!