Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fail less with project management

I can understand a certain cynicism towards project management and project managers. The oft quoted figures suggest that 70-80% of projects fail.

When conversations on this topic arise, I often recall the interesting observation of a former colleague. “All projects fail and all projects succeed. Just to varying extents”.

I’ve recently moved house. A house move has stakeholders, communications interfaces, regulatory compliance, requests for change, a deadline and more besides. So while not exactly a project, it’s quite a bit like a project.

The management of stakeholders, risk, communications and expectations was abysmal. Relationships were strained, costs were incurred, dates slipped and compromised had to made. In short, it was a mismanaged fiasco. But, at the end of it, all parties are comfortably installed in their new houses and the matter is quickly receding into the past tense.

At which point, it’s opportune to recall some admittedly slightly facetious words from the aviation industry. “Any landing you can walk away from is a good one”. As succinct and easily endorsed a critical success factor as I know of.

So are our expectations too high? Are we asking too much from projects? Should we adopt the perspective of our colleagues in aviation? My house move above was doubtless a failure by any yardstick of project management but needless to say a tick in the estate agent’s monthly figures.

Projects that I have visibility of mostly achieve their objectives, sometimes the scope might get whittled away a little, sometime deadlines slip and, often, costs rise. But then a forecast schedule isn’t a deadline and a cost estimate isn’t a budget is it? Project managers, their colleagues and PMOs will try and estimate, forecast and adapt to changing circumstances as best they can. If there’s a headwind, then they may burn a bit more fuel and take a bit longer, but so long as we get the aircraft back on the ground in the general vicinity of the intended destination, that is success by one yardstick at least.

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