You are not impervious to having troubled projects in your portfolio. Any project can fail. Even the most seasoned and skilled project manager may, at one time or another, find themselves at the helm of a troubled project. Having a project in trouble does not necessarily signal the Project Manager is doing a poor job. Projects can go off course for a variety of reasons; some reasons are outside the span of control of the Project Manager. What are some of the common causes for projects to fall into troubled waters and what are some prudent steps to get the project back on course?
If you poll a group of seasoned project professionals with the question, “What are the chief causes of Troubled Projects?” you are likely to receive a variety of responses, though quite possibly there will be some commonly attributed causes. At the macro level, we put forth that projects generally fall into trouble for one or more of three reasons; 1) Poor Planning 2) Misaligned Expectations 3) Ineffective Risk Management. Let’s elaborate on each of these points.
The very worst fire plan is no plan. The next worse is two plans. ~Author Unknown
Let no man's ghost return to say his training let him down. ~Firefighters Saying
Soon after being accepted as a member of a fire department, cadets are typically enrolled into training classes. Their training regime may consist of basic classes, hazardous material teaching, awareness classes, and several others that are relevant to the challenging role of being a firefighter.
New firefighters also are trained early in their career on communications protocols, the chain of command, and standard operating procedures. The need for a common communication language in the fire service is arguably more critical than many other professions, as the cost of a miscommunication can have serious consequences in an urgent situation. In most situations, there are procedures that every firefighter should know, and there are guidelines and processes that establish the chain of command. A system of protocols, chain of command, and standard operating procedures is needed so that, when called into duty, regardless of the department(s) or personnel responding, everyone knows what to do and who is accountable so that the teams can go straight into the “performing” stage of their activity. Being able to perform under the tightest of pressures does not occur by accident nor by luck. Many fire services, especially volunteer services, employ an almost continuous training model where as much as 50% or more of their scheduled meetings are dedicated to training. Career firefighters also spend an abundance of time training especially when first hired. Recent publications suggest on average 600 hours in formal training are required of new hires. These men and women are not just walking through motions in training exercises. To most, their motto is “train as you work” where every event is run as if it were a real live situation. When planning a response to a fire, the approach is to “Plan your work, and work your plan”.
Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs as generally referred to by all of us, are a powerful tool at the project manager’s disposition that can, if structured appropriately:
- Play an important role in driving the behaviours and actions undertaken on a project
- Have a significant effect on the reporting and monitoring of a project’s progress.
Our article does not seek to focus on enterprise-wide or portfolio-level KPI metrics, nor does it seek to be all-encompassing in the uses of specific types of KPIs that can be deployed or how KPIs and metrics can help to run a business. We simply put forward some “pointers” to think about for project-level KPI control and how KPIs can be a tool to help you as an effective project manager ‘manage’ your project.
Many project managers have likely been subjected to “resource selection” well before they knew what selection criteria, roles and responsibilities, or project management for that matter was. Many may recall their elementary or primary school days, and perhaps the selection of sports team members in the school yard or playground. Typically, two captains were likely chosen by someone in authority (such as the sports teacher), and then each captain selected their teams based on a perceived ability to perform, the positions or roles they needed, and maybe how well the captain thought the people would fit into their team. That was then. Fast forward to today. School yard “captains” are now the equivalent of project managers and/or resource line managers, and their “sports team” has become the project team. How different is your project resource selection from that of the school yard and do certain risks exist in your current approach?
Delivering projects on time, within budget and per an agreed scope can be considered to be a “good result” by the project team. But effectively managing these constraints does not guarantee that the project is deemed a success by all of its stakeholders. Additional project constraints need to be taken into account to determine whether “complete” project success is achieved.
A general starting point for these additional constraints is this: think about the longevity of the project’s end output. Take a moment to think about projects you have been involved in, or known about, that finished 12 months ago or longer. Did they deliver their end output on or before schedule, on or below budget and did they fully meet the requisite expected level of scope and quality? If so, great. Now fast-forward to today. Do you know how well the end output of that project is being used? And does it contribute to the organisation in the way that may or may not have been originally anticipated?
I am a project manager working on a project that will dramatically affect the way our company does business. I consider myself something of a communication expert and have made sure to let everyone in the organization know that our project is going to completely change the way they perform their jobs. In fact, since we will be more efficient in the future we probably will not needs as many staff. Well, for some reason people are becoming nervous about our project. The project sponsor has insisted that I do something called marketing communication to start to build a positive image for our project. I am a project manager – not a marketing manager. What is marketing communication?
All managers especially project managers are faced with risk at one time or another as the future cannot be predicted accurately managers have to take a position when facing risk. I looked at some real life situations from the past and found that the examples set by these persons is very similar to the responsibilities that project managers are faced with.