Thursday 24 November 2011

Book Review: Rescue the Problem Project

After reading Todd Williams’ book Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing, and Recovering from Project Failure it couldn’t be clearer - to recover a failing project strong teams are required.

People are projects and Williams shows this time and again as he provides real-life examples of project problems and how-to resolve them. Having spent his career dealing primarily with red projects, his experience is palpable and his knowledge extensive. Reading his book is like being paired with the best mentor around and I read it like I do good fiction; totally absorbed. Drawn in by his experiences, and seeing the parallels to my own, I consolidated what I already know and practise while learning more from those 260 pages of text than I thought possible.

Why? Well because this book contains little about the theory of project management. Instead Rescue the Problem Project is jam-packed full of how the fundamental principals of good management supported by the practical and pragmatic use of solid project management techniques and tools helps everyone on the team, regardless of their position in the hierarchy, led by an experienced project leader can identify the root cause of project failure while maintaining objectivity.

5 Steps to Recovery

Williams achieves this by clearly setting out and describing each step of the recovery process. He takes the reader through each individual step, refers constantly to real-life case studies, and provides key questions to ask along with options for dealing with difficult or challenging situations. Williams makes sure to reiterate Step 0 in the process as without management genuinely answering this there is little or no chance of recovery. His 5 Steps to Recovery are:
Step 0 – Realisation: Management must realise and acknowledge there is a problem to solve before doing anything.
Step 1 – Audit: Objectively audit the entire project to determine all the problems.
Step 2 – Analysis: Look at the data gathered to determine root causes and develop a solution.
Step 3 – Negotiation: Mediate an acceptable solution between the supplier and customer.
Step 4 – Execution: Do it. Implement the corrective actions and agreed plan.
Once you’ve read the book through it is very easy to dip in and out of the various sections. This definitely helps where expertise is stronger in one area than another. Identifying and managing Risk is a perfect example.

The Role of Risk

“Most project managers have a poor understanding of how to quantify risk or how risk analysis can benefit the project. For that reason, they create a risk register at the beginning of a project to fulfil a PMO requirement, but then never update or review it. In fact, frustration is so high that they fail to fully identify risk items or generate reasonable mitigations. To exacerbate the problem, their managers have an equally poor understanding.”
Williams is straight to the point: a cornerstone of risk management is a basic understanding of statistics. He then proceeds to deliver just that by providing a real scenario to improve understanding supported by an example of a risk register, how to determine the odds of each risk happening then quantifying that risk, differentiating between quantifiable and unquantifiable risk and between risks and issues. He also describes how to budget for and determine probability and impact of the risks. It’s simple, straightforward and a thorough introduction to the huge underestimated area that is risk.

If all that wasn’t enough Williams provides the reader with:
  • A chapter relationship chart that lets the reader see quickly where related subject matter can be found.
  • Takeaways at the end of each chapter. Key messages and reminders in bullet point form as quick memory-joggers.
  • Process flows and tables.
  • Access to an on-line appendix full of templates, process descriptions and tools. Free registration required.
  • A list of recommended reading.
Anyone interested in recovering a failing project or putting in place strategies to avoid failure in the first place, will benefit from this book. Whether CEO, Project Sponsor, Project Manager or Line Management, buy it, read it and keep it by your side. It’s a book to be used and will dog-ear quickly as you refer to it time and again.

Find out more about Todd Williams at his website and follow him on Twitter

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