The world is full of problems. Why? We keep looking for answers, and we certainly find some – but as we keep looking in the wrong places we will never find the right answers.
“Why projects fail” is a very popular topic to examine, discuss, and write books about. Some find the answer in the method used, others in the general complexity of projects, which apparently cannot be handled by ordinary mortals – and others simply believe in the influence from “Life, the Universe and Everything” and answer every question asked with “42”.
But who are looking for an answer in what we have right behind our noses – ourselves?! And our selfish and ruthless motives, whatever they are? Well, that’s what we will be doing now, in this blog post.
What might be a significant mistake when made by some people, is no doubt done on purpose by others – maybe you? – thereby making the success of a project very unlikely. I have seen all of the following examples, and more, happen in real life – usually several of them at the same time in the same project. That certainly looks like a crime to me – a murder on the project.
If you are a client
Did you ever…
- …negociate a project estimate in order to save money?
- …set a deadline which is clearly impossible from the idea that “every task takes the time you allocate to it”?
- …forget what the project was all about for a long time – and then suddenly require a lot of things from it, none of which have ever been mentioned before?
- …up-front refuse to pay for testing and project management time and then, during the project, insist to have these things delivered at maximum level and quality because “it should be expected that a project contains such activities”?
- …insist, up-front, that various facilities of the product would be unneccesary, and then, when getting the product, complain about their missing, requiring that it should be delivered or you would take the vendor to court?
If you are a project owner or upper manager
Did you ever…
- …lie about the estimate, claiming that is it 680 hours, in order to get the permission by upper management to start the project, and then end up with a 10,000 hour project?
- …fail to check if the projects you have permitted actually stayed within the boundaries set – in time for this to be corrected?
- …fail to set success criteria for a project?
- …fail to seek accomodation across the organization on the goals of a project?
- …require that the project must start now – without an initial analysis or any kind of requirements specification?
- …pull out important project participants from one project in order to use them in a different project instead?
- …reduce the staffing of a project without replacing the missing people?
- …leave the project without any attention for months – just in order to suddenly require a report and then complain about everything in it?
- …require weekly reports and regular steering commitee meetings without ever reading any of the reports, participating in any of the meetings, or answering emails or other requests from the project manager?
- …move the project from one department to another – just to reward or punish one or the other department manager?
- …appoint a project manager for an important project and then make sure that he or she would have no budget, no organizational power and no support from their direct manager?
- …carefully make sure that the project manager would have no power or popularity, even arranging some resistance in the organization by speaking against him at various meetings, turning the project members and other colleagues against him and the project?
- …insist on deciding who should participate in the project, despite the project manager’s wishes or protests?
- …overload the project manager with additional administrative and operational tasks in the hope that he og she would some day have a break down from the preassure, and then, when it finally happened, fire the one?
- …replace the project manager with a new one – without telling the first one that he was no longer the project manager?
- …replace the project manager who was succesfully running the project with a new one who didn’t know anything about the project or the domain and who herself felt that she had no idea on what to do – just because she was the job-seeking neighbor of your favourite employee?
- …establish a project which didn’t have a project manager?
- …establish a project which wasn’t meant to be a success – perhaps to prove that some idea was impossible and should be removed from the strategy, or to put someone in a bad light?
- …close a project, claiming that it was a failure, without even knowing what the success criteria was?
If you are a project manager
Did you ever…
- …insist that all development project members must deliver all tasks on time, ready or not – and then make corrections later, if and when they would be found by the testers… or the client?
- …accept to run several projects simultaneously along with also doing your full time non-project manager work?
- …leave a project while it was still running – for a better job, a promotion or whatever reason?
- …spend most of your project time making reports, negociating with managers about details – almost without ever seeing the project members?
- …insist that this or that was not a “real” project, since it in your opinion didn’t comply with PMI’s definition – and therefore refuse to manage it?
If you are a project participant
Did you ever…
- …fail to tell about impossibilities in the project plan, product requirements, staffing, etc., believing that it would be someone else’s problem?
- …fail to assist a team mate who had to work late hours, while going home early yourself, believing that the team mate’s part of the project was late, not yours?
- …accept to participate in several projects at the same time, while also doing your usual non-project full time work?
- …insist on following your own plan and not deliver anything in accordance with the project plan?
- …secretly try to undermine the project by telling everybody else than the project manager about all the problems you see with the project?
If you are a project seller
Did you ever…
- …sell a project at a much too low price, just to make sure that you would get the order – knowing that you would get your commision for the sale, not for the delivery or generated loss or surplus?
- …sell a project for a product with impossible features?
- …sell a project and then keep telling the project team how angry the client was about the delivered parts, without ever allowing the client and the team to meet?
- …sell a project which would require that the project manager would hire one or more of your friends or former study mates at high rates, as they had skills which your company didn’t possess itself, without charging the client for this extra cost, leaving the project economy in ruins from the very beginning?
Well, in any of these and similar situations I would say that you did something which could look like if you deliberately murdered the project. Wouldn’t you?
Maybe the project would have ended up being succesful if you had not done it!
And a final thought: If we from the statistics remove all projects that were deliberately killed this way – how many would then be left? And how many of those actually ended up as a success? Maybe the success rate for real projects – those that we try to make succesful – is not bad at all?