Monday, December 30, 2013

Problems with unrealistic objectives

A while back I wrote a post entitled "Fail less with project management" I remain broadly happy with the sentiments I expressed. Perhaps the most succinct summary I can relay is via the metaphor of an aircraft flight in which a plane, encountering stronger headwinds than expected, will burn a bit more fuel and take a bit more time. It will however ultimately touchdown safely at its intended destination. A success in aviation terms. Not quite such a clear cut case in project delivery terms.

I only found out recently that the Association for Project Management has a vision of "...a world in which all projects succeed".

Does this mean that collectively we cease to embark upon projects that are deemed risky? Does this mean that project managers who do not succeed in delivering projects have failed?

And now for a bit of multi-choice.

There is often a tension between two competing imperatives for the project manager. The delivery of a successful project and the successful delivery of the client's strategy. As an experienced and seasoned project manager is it your job to;
  1. Deliver a successful project whether or not it is the strategy of your client
  2. Deliver the strategy of your client whether or not it results in project success
  3. Neither option
For me and my blog, the answer is option 2. In a client facing scenario, what I'm actually going to say is that as a professional change practitioner my job (and that of the team) is to reduce risk, add value and accelerate delivery. 

For those of you who went  for option 1 - best of luck - I recommend you keep the phone number of your professional indemnity provider handy.

For those of you who went for option 3 - with some sort of managed approach to influencing the sponsor away from his or her chosen strategy (assuming you have good reason for doing so) I would offer the following. First, the most effective way to do this may well be to fail quickly and conspicuously in any attempt to deliver it. Secondly and more importantly, as an "experienced and seasoned project manager" that isn't your job. Is it? (If you can't live with this, fear not. A successful career in project assurance may be beckoning).

But I said 'problems' with unrealistic objectives. Not 'problem'. Personally (though it may yet limit my career) I don't have any problems in telling the client that we've burnt a bit more fuel and we're going to take a bit more time because the headwinds we encountered were a little greater than we forecast 6 (12, 18, 24+?) months ago. One of the reasons I don't mind is that my job is to add value, reduce risk and accelerate delivery first and to deliver successful projects second.

If you don't adopt this sort of credo, you might find yourself overusing words like "contextualised success", "positioning" or possibly even "the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage".
So, if your client has opted for an approach to change that you're not altogether convinced about, I'd recommend helping the client develop the necessary information assets as quickly and cheaply as possible so that you can back-up, rethink, re-plan and take a second swing at it.

Other views undoubtedly exist.