Sunday, May 3, 2009

Help! My project has gone pear-shaped

How often as a project manager have you had to pick up the pieces of a project that has become a disaster zone?

Let’s look at some figures:
In 1997 KPMG Canada surveyed public and private sector IT organizations. Over 61% reported project failure and more than three quarters overshot their schedules by 30% or more.

Similarly, The Chaos Report by the Standish Group found that 31% of projects get cancelled before completion. 53% of projects will cost over 189% of their original budget and only 16% of software projects are completed on-time and on-budget.

What makes a project go bad?
Projects can go awry for a whole range of reasons. Our experience tells us that the main reasons are not technical ones – they are more an element of ‘the human factor’ such as:
• inadequate planning
• lack of skilled resources at the right time
• unclear lines of communication
• conflicting priorities among project team members – usually between 'project work' and their normal job

How can you bring a project back on course?
It sometimes seems like an impossible task to get a project back on the right track with everything seemingly against you.

Don’t despair – there are a few steps that help you get the project back on track in a coordinated manner, without throwing an endless pool of people or money at the project.

First – don’t panic! Stop and take stock of the current state of the project’s performance against its outcomes.
o What was the original scope and how does this relate to what has been delivered to date?
o What is the budget versus the actual spending on the project to date?
o Review project plans – are they still appropriate? Have there been contextual changes you need to account for?
o What resources do you have? Do people know what they should be doing? Are they working efficiently and effectively?
o What are the issues that have brought the project unstuck? Are there appropriate governance and controls in place?

Second – report the current state to the project sponsor, executive or manager. People often don’t want to acknowlege bad news. They may be embarassed or ultra-sensitive. However, if you don’t get support – at this critical time – to take corrective action, the project may be unrecoverable. This is the time to use your good communication skills and be assertive.

Third – devise a recovery plan. Treat it as if you are planning the project from the beginning. The only difference is that much work will have already been done. To do this:
o Identify what deliverables need to be produced
o State what processes and QA checks need to be put in place.
o Reprioritise and focus on the important issues and drop the 'nice to haves'

Fourth – identify resource requirements. Be realistic – otherwise you will end up back where you started. Re-establish individual priorities and what each person needs to do. Devise ways to keep team members accountable for the outcome. Most importantly, include ‘time out’ in the plan so team members don’t have to work 24/7.

Fifth – measure progress! Schedule regular status update and briefing sessions (not more than 15 mins) with all key project team members. This may need to be one or twice a day initially.

Sixth – lead the team from the front. Demonstrate your own commitment and the team will follow.

Avoid trouble through sound planning
The best advice or course is to take advantage of industry best practice and utilise a tried and tested project management methodology such as ‘Prince 2’.

Of course, there is no substitute for good planning up front including a risk assessment and treatment plan so you are ready for all eventualities. After all, failing to plan is planning to fail!