Projects go off course for a large number of reasons. Why they do so is not always clear. Sometimes the solution is not as simple as replacing the project manager. Although this is always an option, it removes the possibility of growing the current PM and increasing that person’s competency and future performance.
Project risk assessment and mitigation action planning is a standard PM technique aimed at identifying the things which could throw a project off course. When it is not in place, a “project in trouble” assessment is an effective way to understand the underlying reasons for the project problems. In most cases, there is not a single factor, but a set of interacting causes. Addressing them effectively requires political care and PM experience.
Projects in trouble assessments require analytical and interpersonal skill. They must be done urgently,
in ways that do not upset the individuals involved.
Finding the underlying problems is just the first step. Corrective actions must also be implemented.
“Don’t just identify problems - provide solutions.”
XYZ Services company has been systematically re-engineering its internal business processes through a series of successive projects. At times, this involves implementing upgrades to existing computer applications. These changes need to be coordinated with staff training in the new ways of doing things. At other times, it means changes in the way that XYZ Services Company staff interfaces with customers and suppliers. Effective communication with these outsiders is crucial.
The warehouse and supply chain logistics process improvement project is stalled. Target milestones have been missed regularly over the past two months. The warehouse staff have to work with old software for some activities and new software for others. This is having an impact on the quality of their customer service. Unhappiness is rapidly moving up the executive hierarchy.
Tiranne, the project manager, does not seem to be able to correct the situation. Each corrective step that Tiranne takes does not produce the needed results. Charles, her boss, asks Roelf to do a project in trouble assessment.
Roelf rapidly reviews existing project plans and documents. He then begins a progressive 360° series of meetings, getting everyone’s perspective on the issues. Over three days, he talks with Tiranne, Charles, senior project client executives, a number of project staff (at all levels), the account manager and several individuals from the project staff from the vendor who is doing part of the software development.
Roelf meets with Charles to discuss his findings. Roelf has concluded the following.
- The external software development vendor has not always delivered the quality that is required, largely because of staffing changes they have made to their project team without consulting Tiranne or others at XYZ Services.
- Tiranne has not managed the expectations of the project’s clients effectively, promising delivery, even when she was aware of problems.
- The coordination between members of Tiranne’s team and the new process training team in HR is not being well managed by Cezanne, one of Tiranne’s team leads. Tiranne has not addressed this issue.
- Failures in the change management process at the outsourced service firm that provides computer processing utility services to XYZ Services has had a negative impact on the project. None of Tiranne’s project team has experience with managing such vendors. They would not normally be expected to do so. There is a person in YYZ Computer Operations group responsible for this service level agreement. Unfortunately, this individual has been having health problems. The focus on this issue has been erratic as a result.
Roelf and Charles formulate an action plan.
- Roelf will brief Tiranne on the issues.
- Charles will take up the Computer Operations service level agreement issue with Marie, his peer, who is responsible for this department.They will jointly find a solution.
- Charles and Tiranne will meet with the external software
development vendor account manager to raise the quality issue. Charles will authorize Tiranne to implement a larger quality control activity on this software development vendor’s delivery, even though this was not in the original project plan.
- Charles will coach Tiranne to improve her client expectation management skills.
- Charles will take Tiranne to task for not addressing the coordination with the training group. He knows that she has managed such relationships well in the past. He expects that this will correct it. He will also ensure that this issue shows up on the Cezanne’s project end performance review, as well as Tiranne’s.