Monday, January 12, 2015

Are You Being Set Up to Fail?

Guitarist Chet Atkins used to play two songs at the same time--Yankee Doodle and Dixie. In introducing the piece, he said, "You can't run a two-track railroad with a one-track mind." You also can't be a highly effective project manager in an environment that stacks all the cards against you. 

Surveys of project success have been conducted for all kinds of projects since the late 1990s. They consistently show that project failures far outnumber project successes. In fact, only about 15 to 20 percent of projects meet their initial targets (time, cost, scope, and performance). However, when success is defined as meeting targets, you are assuming that the targets are realistic, and this is often not true.

It is commonly assumed that there are three targets, called good, fast, and cheap. If we just use these, we know that values for only two of them can be assigned. The third one will be determined by a lot of factors, such as how many resources are available, whether the project manager has control of them, and so on. We also assume that priorities don't change every time the wind changes direction, which is often a fallacious assumption.

Another major factor in project success is how much time is spent developing a realistic project plan. In general, if you fail to plan adequately, you are planning to fail. NASA concluded that their projects were perfectly planned to achieve the outcomes that occurred. If the project failed, it was because the plan guaranteed failure, and conversely. In my 40 years of involvement in this discipline, I have found that many organizations actually won't allow project managers to spend the time on project planning that should be applied. And therefore, it is no surprise that their projects seldom succeed.

Finally, just how much training have you received in managing projects? No offense, but being a good engineer, programmer, IT expert, scientist, or whatever, does not mean that you will be a good project manager. You need a different skill set. As Marshall Goldsmith says in his book by this title, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There."  You need training, followed by practice and coaching to become as good at managing as you are at your technical job. And just getting your PMP® won't do it either, because passing the exam is a matter of memorization, which does not assess skill level.

My attitude has always been that I don't mind playing a fair game, but I refuse to play a game that is designed so that I can never win. My advice to you: if the environment is one in which you can't win, then you have four choices:
  1. Change the environment (talk to the powers who can do this)
  2. Choose to not let it bother you (I don't advise taking this choice)
  3. Leave (but be careful that where you go isn't worse than where you were) 
  4. Stay and be upset (this choice will take a toll on you over time)
Choice 1 is the preferred one. See if you can get your boss and higher level executives to read my e-book, How to Create an Environment for Successful Projects,* or the book by Graham and Englund, Creating an Environment for Successful Projects. Then try to get them to implement the recommended steps. If they are unwilling to change, then you will have to take one of the remaining three actions. Remember, the company may own your job, but you own your career. Only you can govern that.

Good luck,

* My e-book is available for Kindle, iPAD, and Nook.

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