Monday, 18 July 2011

Project Past Due - Could be Time to Stop It, Now!

When a project is past its use-by date or looks unlikely to deliver the desired benefits in the agreed timeframe, tough decisions need to be made. Often a company will push on determined to see this thing through, following the kind of philosophy as described in Dead Horse Management. But throwing more money at it or changing the people involved doesn’t always work.

To end or not to end, that is the question but what on earth is the answer? The answer is, quite simply, to do what is best for your organisation and that could be to Stop It, Now!

Let’s take a look at a common example many of you will recognise…

An organisation intends to rollout a new standardised application across its many sites. It establishes a large global programme. It then sets about spending months and large sums of money pulling subject matter experts (SME’s) together to define a global template the business units can all agree on and sign-up to. Global deployment begins. Some sites move forward successfully implementing with little or no change to the template. Other sites make good progress initially but soon struggle to correlate template processes to their business model. Not until well into the project is it obvious many of their business critical processes will not work under the template. Process discussions ensue within the project and quickly escalate to the programme office. The said business critical processes are dissected and what is uncovered falls into two broad categories:
  1. Valid, ie: country specific, often requirements that are legislated; and
  2. Invalid, ie: an historical process that needs reengineering to the template.
Now what? The valid ones move forward and the invalid ones move to parked. Someone with more authority must make a decision. Change the template? Change the business? Invest more money and change the software? Time passes, deadlines slip, other work streams feel the effects and pressure build on the programme office as other sites agitate to get underway.

What’s happening during this time?
  • The project carries on where it can
  • Budgets are haemorrhaging
  • Timelines are slipping
  • There are conflicts and uncertainty of responsibility and decision making between project and programme
  • Continued discussion about differing or undiscovered requirements locally vs the global template
  • Any opportunity for early benefits realisation is lost
  • Distinct lack of willingness to enforce or accept change
  • Perpetual delays in decision making
  • etc
What can we forecast will happen next?
  • Costs will continue to increase
  • Project completion date will continue to be pushed out
  • Power plays, politics and leveraging personal agendas will shift focus away from the original issue
  • Changes to the previously agreed global template will be inevitable
  • More individual projects will spring up devaluing the benefits of a global programme
  • The ongoing opportunity for global benefits realisation will further reduce
  • etc
Projects are only as good as the people on them and solid quality decision making when it counts. If a project is flagged as amber, pay attention and be in action. Give direction clearly and early. You might have money to burn but at least burn it where it makes sense. Once it’s red communicate decisions to key people directly removing the trickle down effect and the possibility for ambiguity. Leave no room for misunderstanding about why you’re allowing the project to continue, the conditions that must be met and the timeframe for meeting them. Otherwise don’t delay the inevitable and Stop It, Now!

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