Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

When projects go too well

As a Project Manager, I strive to ensure my projects go really well. Experience tells me that all projects will go through some difficult periods during its execution. Projects are inherently risky and not all risks, influences and impacts can be predicted in advance. That and years of experience delivering projects has made me weary about a project going too well.

Ignorance is bliss. However, when exposed the results are seldom pretty. There are many reasons why a project may appear to be going better than what is the reality. The project team may have a different world view than that of the customer. This is a very common scenario, especially in the old days of long waterfall software development projects. The advent of the Agile methodologies has come about through a desire to remove this expectation barrier through short iterations where the customer has the opportunity for feedback. That alone, however does not guarantee success.

Many times, it is much easier at the start of the project because the pressure of deadlines is not so immediate. A day’s delay here and there does not seem to pose a great danger. There seems plenty of opportunity to make up for any lost time. However, as the project progresses, this becomes less and less possible. Unless the project is planned with enormous slack, in my experience it is impossible. The student syndrome is well and truly entrenched in project teams. If someone is given more time than is needed for a particular task, they relax too much early on and only put the foot down when they think they are nearing the critical path.

In the context of a supplier delivering products of services to a customer, the early days of projects are much easier. All parties begin with the intention of getting to the end goal in a one team approach. However, the business pressures are different on the supplier and customer. Therefore, even with the best wishes, a one team approach is very difficult to sustain over a long period. Equally, when the discussion is about benefits and approaches, it is a much easier conversation to have. As soon as the conversations move towards billing for costs from the supplier side, or project assurance or performance measurement from the customer side, discussions are inevitably more difficult.

Work cultures and how individuals behave during uncertainty also play a major role in project success. Some people have the tendency to not ask for help and hope they will be able to persevere through any difficulty they are having. They consider asking for help as a sign of failure. This can lead to drastic consequences, despite well meaning people. Bringing to attention any risks or issues to late in the piece will guarantee it cannot be successfully navigated through. There is no substitute to knowing your people.

The biggest mistake I see made when projects go well early is project teams sometimes get too comfortable and stop doing the basics correctly – keeping tabs on scope, documenting decisions, communicating effectively, enforcing change control etc. People are by nature reluctant to rock a boat they consider is sailing well. If you always hear everything is going well do not be content. Do some project management by simply walking around and getting the pulse of the team. Having a good handle on whether status reports reflect reality is a must. If there are issues, it is much better to know them early.

Do not relax when projects start well. You are under less pressure and should take the opportunity to compile good project management artifacts. If things turn sour, these are what will help navigate a course.

Image Credit: The New Zealand Railways Magazine

One response to “When projects go too well

  1. Pingback: How do I influence to get the desired behaviour? « Project Management in Practice

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