There’s a common fantasy in Project Teams that ‘the worst is behind us’ coupled with ‘the future is bright’.
Nothing wrong with a spot of optimism but on projects the past really does predict the future.
If you get off to a bad start it’s difficult to turn that around. The genesis of your problems will cast a long shadow onto future events. Small problems loom large.
The scenario can go like this. The project is rocky. A few senior people take the fall and are replaced. Corporate oversight is increased. More effort is applied. Progress is tracked more closely. But if the root causes of the chaos (it’s rarely only one root cause) are not examined, discussed and fixed then the chaos will continue.
If (say) project funding is a problem then changes to the project team will only increase the chaos.
Sources of Chaos
Let’s look at some of sources of chaos and see how they affect projects. I’ve went through every one of these and came out covered in scar tissue btw.
To start – ‘projects are temporary organisations established to manage an established outcome whose scope, duration and budget are rationally derived’.
The temporary aspect generates serious issues. The scramble to kick off a project has to be seen to be believed.
1: Location Location Location
A) I was once part of a world-class bid that failed because the proposed location for the project office was driven by a corporate need to fill an empty building under lease, not because it made project sense. The potential client was not amused. But, if we’d won the job then the hapless Project Manager would have struggled to get people to work on the ‘wrong-side’ of the city. Which is why the property was unoccupied in the first place.
B) I started a project where there was no office available for us or the client. The only suitable office was occupied by another project. Appealing to Corporate I was told to ‘fight the incumbent PM and take the space’. When I went to see ‘my director’ to say that my appeals had went unnoticed he said, ‘no Jim, I mean you will actually have to physically fight him’. I couldn’t box eggs – so it wasn’t a feasible scenario.
C) I had a project where my team, the client and the site were in 3 different countries. The outcome hardly needs to be aired in public.
Two: Project Funding
A) Projects are often under-funded. The mechanism may be that the project outcome cost was kept low to get through the funding committee. The PM has to live with that one.
B) The decision on the draw-down of funds is held by someone not on the project. They can save their company money by slowing funds to a trickle. “PMs are such needy people anyway, always overstating the case”.
Three: Project Personnel
Often projects are loaded up at the start with sub-optimal people because…
a) other projects are trying to shed them
b) they’re on the shelf in Corporateland (because they’re not wanted on projects)
c) it’s all that the resourcing guys could find at short notice (there is no other kind of resourcing notice)
Four: Readiness to Launch
Chaotic precursors (at various stages)
A) No/Slow-start because the basic elements of a project are not in place.
B) Permissions to start work not complete. Clients often urge a quick start before the paperwork is completed.
C) Changes to scope. Usually from 2 sources. The changes held back because the bid process was ongoing and changes emanating from the incomplete design (eg concept)
Five: Others Worth a Mention
- Purchasing started before the design is complete
- Client’s team nowhere in sight
- Client offloads all his scrap onto your project
Six…. well you get the message. The genesis of chaos is right a the start of every project, often well before the project is sanctioned
The Bad News.
There is no way to avoid these problems. No way in hell.