A couple of years back I was engaged on a project to help recover an agile project run amok. The project was one of the first in the organization to use an agile development methodology and consisted of eight four-week sprints with six capability development teams. The project manager was a very theoretical scrum master who was more concerned with having an agile "design win" than he was with ensuring the business sponsor was satisfied with the project result. After about the third sprint there were significant issues with capabilities not working together, interfaces with external systems breaking, and problems with meeting sprint dates for committed capabilities. To save the project, we had to take a number of steps that violated the purist agile model but were necessary if we were going to keep moving forward on the project. Our implementation looked like a mishmash of agile and waterfall. It wasn't pretty, but we eventually got the project done.
Excerpted from The Project Management Advisor - 18 Major Project Screw-Ups And How To Cut Them Off At The Pass (Prentice Hall, 2004)
In any event, there is a desire to do something tomorrow that can’t be done acceptably today. Admittedly, some of the most fun projects that I have worked on have been the “omigosh, we need to get this done or else” projects. I have seen the greatest clarity of purpose on projects where there was a very real and tangible consequence to not completing the project successfully. One outstanding example of this that affected virtually every business on earth was the Y2K computer scare. One of my jobs was in ensuring that our mission-critical vendors were adequately prepared for Y2K and that there would not be any business interruption to our company as a result of a vendor’s failure to perform.
Recently I've noticed a trend which frankly really ticks me off. My observation is that more and more project managers are becoming hyper risk-averse and demonstrating an unwillingness to accept accountability for the projects they manage. One tell-tale sign which I've noticed is the usage of "matrixed" organization charts. In matrixed organization charts, the project team is depicted using different types of team leads shown vertically and horizontally on the organization chart. With a matrixed organization, team members may have a "solid line" reporting relationship to one manager and a "dotted line" reporting relationship to one or more managers. Now, I fundamentally don't have a problem with the collaboration aspect that a matrixed organization enables; where I do have a problem is when the matrixed organization makes it difficult to pinpoint who has accountability for the project.
On a recent project my company was working with a frozen seafood manufacturer to help them bring a specialty frozen seafood product to market.
A huge component of getting this project done was the packaging; it had to be eye-popping and appealing while protecting the frozen seafood pieces inside. After a number of design sessions with the packaging manufacturer, we received the finished packaging. What was initially exuberance during the design session turned into disappointment when we saw the finished product. Some of the graphics were a bit blurry, a re-sealable zipper wasn't included, and a clear window to view the contents inside was missing. Our emotions went from disappointment to anger as the manufacturer told us it would be a number of weeks before a new delivery of the packaging could be done. If we took this route, a key delivery to a very important customer of ours wouldn't be met. What a pickle.
This part three of a three-part series on Mastering Credibility. Part one is It's What You Know and part two is It's The Relationships You Build.
Bert was an associate at a premier management consulting firm.
Over the years he specialized in providing advice to senior management in information technology organizations. Generally he had some pretty insightful ideas that many of the rank and file in the client organization viewed as a bit theoretical. His advice was typically accompanied by general implementation timelines which client organizations rarely took verbatim. Bert's advice usually culminated in some type of a Powerpoint presentation to the senior client management; then it was off to the next assignment.
For years Bert had been trying to get a foot into the door of Laner Robotics.
This part two of a three-part series on Mastering Credibility. Part one is It's What You Know and part three is It's How You Deliver Results.
Ever since childhood, Mark had been known as an in-your-face competitor...
Whether it be in sports, in the classroom, or in relationships, he wasn't happy unless he beat someone else at whatever he was doing. Being in competition to Mark meant that he was going to do whatever he could to ensure he won and that his competitor lost. Those on his team loved his competitive spirit and encouraged it; those not on his team feared him. His behavior was validated through the number of trophies and medals he received while growing up.
As an adult his competitive spirit didn't wane. He became a feared negotiator in his company's purchasing organization and became known as a pompous ass who would stop at nothing to ensure that his suppliers were giving up as much as possible so his company could get a better deal. Suppliers hated to deal with him, but his company was too big to ignore so they put up with him.
This is part one of a three-part series on Mastering Credibility. Part two is It's The Relationships You Build and part three is It's How You Deliver Results.
Jeff was the quintessential schmoozer.
He was one of those guys who was the life of the party. He could walk into any room and instantly be the one that everyone else focused on. His charm, wit, and charisma was the envy of his friends and colleagues. Being in his senior year of college, Jeff saw huge dollar signs in his future as a salesperson. Though he was an average student with average grades, Jeff felt that his ability to wine and dine customers was going to be his ticket to being a big-money salesperson. With his wit and charm, how could customers resist?
One of my column readers recently sent in this question: One of our senior project managers left abruptly in the middle of a 3 year million $ contract. What experience and education would you consider in promoting a replacement?
Ooh, good meaty problem. Not so simple a solution.
A sad tale of a how a sponsor/PM relationship killed a project...
Exec identifies a need for a project and nominates self as sponsor. PM gets assigned to project and assembles project team. Sponsor is vague about problem to be solved other than "we need a new system". PM can't communicate problem to be solved to the team because he doesn't understand what the problem is. Sponsor continues to ask for more and more things to be included in project, PM doesn't have courage to say no. PM treats sponsor as "that person in the corner office" and doesn't know how to ask for help, so he escalates everything. Sponsor has to make some tough decisions but is unwilling to do so because of the political fallout. PM provides bad information about decision alternatives so sponsor ignores him. Due to changing priorities project no longer makes sense to do, but PM lobbies to keep the project going. Sponsor loses interest because there are bigger fish to fry. PM and team are disillusioned because sponsor doesn't care. Project dies a slow death. R.I.P.
While this is a fictional story, you can undoubtedly relate to most of these things happening on one project or another in your career. The sponsor/PM partnership on a project is one of those "soft skill" factors that gets frequently overlooked when assessing a PM's skills but is a key determinant in the success or failure of a project. Under a healthy partnership, the sponsor and PM work as a singular unit to ensure the project gets what it needs to be as successful as possible using only as many resources as absolutely necessary to secure success. Under a less than healthy relationship the project will undoubtedly cost more in time and money assuming it even gets completed at all.
Throughout my career I've been both a sponsor and a PM and have first-hand experience in how this relationship needs to work from both sides of the desk. Through my experience, I've locked down on ten truths which I feel are crucial to securing a healthy sponsor/PM partnership. See if these resonate with you:
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