Company Executive Charged with Project Abuse

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Running a successful IT project is a lot like raising a child. So why do project managers so often abandoned them at birth?

When I was the CIO at The Warehouse I was the executive sponsor of the organisation’s Managing Successful Projects training. In this role I was asked to do a short session at every course we ran. Ironically the session they always asked me to do was the session on why projects fail. Ironic because IT projects don’t have a great track record of delivering what they promise, when they promised it. Indeed, most reasonably reputable sources state that well over half of all major projects fail to deliver the promised benefits on time and on budget. During these sessions I always drew a parallel between projects and parenting and it goes something like this.

Ideally projects and parenthood both go through three major phases as follows:

Phase 1:
The project/baby is conceived. There is much excitement and anticipation of what the future may hold. The participants are full of the wonders and joys of the world and the future possibilities that parenthood holds. The visions are perfect “Kodak” moments, great family holidays, the joys and love of a fantastic family. This is exciting and it’s not going too far to say that this is a truly climactic experience.

Phase 2:
Implementation/pregnancy (from the mother’s view, fathers have it easy). This is where the hard work begins because not only do you need to continue all of your day to day responsibilities but you also have to contend with the extra workload of the “project”. Initially these extra responsibilities are fine as they start out lightly and we are still in the glow of conception and all the wonders that parenthood will bring. Over time however the extra work grows and grows until eventually you are constantly tired, grumpy and just getting by. You begin to wonder if it is all worth it and “go live” can’t come fast enough.

When go live does arrive all the hard work up to this point seems insignificant. There is much pressure, pain, yelling and screaming and everyone within sight (especially the father) has their heritage questioned. But at last it happens, birth occurs and a new life comes into the world.

Phase 3:
Raising the Child. As explosive as conception was and as hard as pregnancy was the real work of being a parent begins now and continues for the next 18 years or so. During this time you nurture your child, caring for them and protecting them, help them to adapt to the world around them and support them as they grow into hopefully productive functioning members of society. In project terms we need to nurture the project and everyone involved in it to ensure that all the benefits that we imagined at conception are actually realised. In both cases there will be many unexpected obstacles to be overcome.

The problem is that in the project world most organisations forget to raise the child; instead we abandon them at birth. Often it’s even worse than just plain abandonment because we starve our projects of the nutrients and care (resources and our best people) they need during gestation as well. We then wonder why the projects fail. We don’t think on this too hard because if we did we would see that the issue largely lies with the parents. Who are the parents of a project? The project sponsor and business owner are. While project managers are often looked at and blamed for project failure we don’t often look to the sponsor or business owner yet this is where the leadership or parenting needs to come from.

So to all budding project managers ensure your projects have great parents and if they don’t …. then consider if you want it on your CV.

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First piblished on istart.co.nz

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