Project Fantasy v Reality Check

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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.

 

Ends

Project Disaster? Just Add Politics

H2S-project-politics-are-the-death-of-projects
Not Stopping at Your Station Anytime Soon

In England there is great debate about building a high-speed railway link between 2 cities. Birmingham to London. The distance is about 200 kilometres, give or take how far a horse could spit. It’s called the HS2 Project. And it’s beset by politics.

If I was inclined to write a book called ‘How to Totally Banjax a Project’ I could describe this one and put it between 2 hardcovers with no comments added.

And it’s not started yet.

As a primer – have a butcher’s hook at this.  That’s the 2014 numbers at £50.1 billion ($65.8 billion in real money) and incredibly is a P95 estimate. That means there should only be a 5% probability of exceeding the total. It’s the first time I’ve seen a P95 used in my entire working life. It’s a worthless measure.

In 2018 the estimate is now £65 billion with a Cabinet and Treasury Department claiming it should be £80 billion. So far so normal for politically motivated projects. But it’s what the agency also said about the project that caught my eye.

Quote 1 “The report (classified as “official-sensitive” and “not for publication”) attacks HS2 management for “lack of cohesion and common vision” and says the executive team has “no credible plan by which to gauge or manage progress”. It notes “destabilising” turnover of senior staff despite paying some of the “highest public-sector salaries in the UK”.

Quote 2 “highly likely to significantly overspend by circa 20-60% with the likely cost increasing . . . to more than £80bn”.

I wont go into the schedule except to say whoever produced it should have their crayons confiscated immediately!

Remember that the contractor who wins this project will be the one with the lowest price and the shortest schedule, and a great curse will fall over them.

Politics – the biggest killer of projects known to man.

 

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The Project HSE Risk You Haven’t Spotted Because It’s So Gigantic

This HSE Risk Cannot be Seen With A Magnifying Glass

HSE has gotten pretty good over the years. PPE, Tool-Box Talks, Awareness and so on. All great initiatives that have save many lives and prevented uncountable injuries. But there is a macro-risk that goes unnoticed. A risk that can be identified but usually in retrospect.

It’s a risk that can force people on site to take unnecessary risks, seek shortcuts and put people in danger. It’s hard to spot because it doesn’t show up on site, it’s a risk-mechanism that started (perhaps) even before design began,

If the managers on site stick strictly to their procedures they can avoid the danger but when pressure grows there can be a tendency to waive the rules.

So, what is this monster? How can this HSE risk manifest itself in the early phases of the project and yet no-one sought to stamp on it?

Well it’s because the people who created the monster and the people who have to deal with it never meet. They live in two different worlds. And the HSE Department is in neither.

The monster’s name? The Fixed End Date.

Doesn’t sound very scary or unmanageable, does it? But it is.

The Fixed End Date appears around the time the project is sanctioned and funded. The profitability of the venture depends on the date being met. All of the finance revolves around that event. Nobody from HSE is in the loop.

The project players say the date isn’t fixed. It’s variable with a confidence range (+20%/ – 10% is tossed around at that time) BUT when someone senior enough sets a date it hardens quicker than fast-drying cement.

The other factor is that the date may have been chosen to suit a non-project objective. Nothing to do with ROI but could be about a royal opening, prestige, a gong for the company owner. A host of reasons that fix the date in solid stone. And the project manager isn’t selected yet.

Let’s skip to the period in time when the end date looms large. All of the activities are either critical or loaded with negative float. Additional work that has been hidden forces it’s way onto the agenda. The secret life of the project bursts out into the open like an alien out of John Hurt’s chest.

Someone pushes the red button. The people on site take incoming. The monster rears it’s head.

The long lunches at sanction stage, the prevarication/ procrastination/ political infighting – all forgotten. The task now is to get the welders to weld faster. The drive is to flood the worksites with men, machinery and equipment. The bugle calls up a night-shift, a back-shift, a miracle. A window opens and Commonsense throws itself out.

The project enters a fugue state where there is a hunt for the guilty and punishment for the innocent because the Great Fixed Deadline Has Not Been Met!!!!! And nobody told ME.

Of course, a welder cannot weld faster and the only possible outcome from throwing people into the breech is a steep rise in the probability of an accident. All because a group of people in the possession of scant knowledge with only a vague plan set a Fixed End Date for the project a long long time ago.

The only thing the Project Manager can do is to run a copy of all the weekly, monthly and quarterly reports that showed the real and moving end-date as identified by the Critical Path Network from when he started on the project right up till time now.

If Project Managers don’t have that paperwork? Then hell mend then.

 

Ends

 

 

 

 

 

Probabilistic Project Risk Management versus Voodoo

Probabilistic Risk Management is the use of Stochastic Probability Theory to gauge the probable cost and duration of a project versus traditionally derived estimates.

To do this the Scope of Work, Schedule and Cost is examined and each element of the scope/ schedule/ cost is given a range of outcomes that reflect the risks associated with each event.

Still with me? Don’t worry, we don’t actually do that, we just say we do.

The actual methodology is to dance around a fire under the full moon chanting, shaking the femur bones of ungulates and throwing psyclobin dust into the flames. The answers are then handed down from the spirits via convulsions in dream-time.

For all the notice Project Managers take of the results? Either of those methods work.

 

 

 

Ends

 

The One Plan Every Project Needs (But Few Have)

 

Mobilisation Plan
This Plan Needs Many Disciplines

Plans, plans, plans. Every project has them coming out their ears. But there is one that sets the success. Miss this one, or get it wrong, and the project is gone before it’s started. Gone, baby, gone. Continue reading “The One Plan Every Project Needs (But Few Have)”