Honestly, how bad is it?

Apr 19, 2018

Last week we looked at what was keeping you awake at night. Out of control projects with budget blow outs, scope creep, schedule over-run and a project manager that wasn’t able to provide you with the facts. You’ve been sitting in senior leadership meetings and you just know that your peers are losing patience.  After all, they’ve a ton of pent up business demand waiting for you and your project to launch and get out of their way.  You can’t really blame them.  Their bonus is likely to be tied to the revenue lift or cost saving initiative that you’re stopping them achieving.

Thankfully, you’ve taken control and ownership of the situation and sent a clear message to the business by appointing an independent recovery manager.  You’ve now got everyone’s full attention and support and it’s time to build recovery momentum.  A quick fix is not going to save the day. Now you need to understand the extent of the trouble being faced.

What’s really been happening?

This is where facts become your friends.  How bad you are really in the @#$% needs to be established … and quickly!  How much are you over the approved budget and what is the estimate to complete the work?  How are you tracking against the baseline schedule?  Does it bear any resemblance to reality?  And the really big one; will all the benefits declared in the business case be realised.  The fact is that if any one of these is found to be significantly outside the pre-established tolerances, the project is red and requires a comprehensive and structured approach to recovery.  Even more confronting, the recovery plan is likely to be very different to the original project plan. In fact the deliverables in the recovery plan may vary greatly from the original business case scope.

This requires the sponsor and project executive team to negotiate, agree and approve the changes ahead of executing the recovery process.  That means concessions need to be made and inevitably someone will lose out on the benefits they’d banked on.

Similarly, agreement and acceptance is required from all parties that to properly analyse and fix the project requires a change in approach to delivery management. This means planning and implementation of realistic and pragmatic corrective actions and recovery processes; not just point solutions that paper over the cracks.

Establishing the facts

With the appointment of the recovery manager, the sponsor and executive team need to establish the recovery guidelines defining:

  • Scope of the engagement
  • Mandate and decision making authority
  • Roles and responsibilities of all parties involved
  • Overall recovery plan approach including
    • Decision gateways
    • Reporting and communication
    • Success or acceptance criteria

You’ve now got an anchor point for the recovery.  It’s time to take the plunge.  There’s no way around it.  A review, an evaluation, a fitness test … is an audit by another name.  Nobody likes them; but they are the vital next step in establishing the facts upon which a recovery plan will be formulated.

It’s important to understand history because that helps determine root cause. But you don’t have a time machine and relentlessly searching for and appointing blame is not productive. You can only change what’s ahead of you and that must steadfastly be the focus of the recovery manager.

The first step in gathering data is an anonymous survey of stakeholders and delivery team members to assess where the major problems within the problem project lie. This serves two measures. Firstly it opens up the lines of communication with the wider team. Secondly, the output from this survey is used to tailor interview questions and guidelines for 1:1 interviews with the stakeholders and key delivery team members.

Two-way communication and trust

The interview process ensures two-way communication is established early between the recovery manager and the extended project team to build trust and confidence.

Typically the project team in a failing project is feeling ignored. Without people, there isn’t a project. What they do or don’t do determines the success or otherwise of the project. A troubled project with talented, motivated people is far more likely to recover and succeed than one with a weak team.

The three simple questions below demonstrate to the interviewees that their opinion is valued. When given an opportunity to open up the information flows.

  • What are the issues for the project?
  • What would you do to fix it?
  • What do you expect of the recovery manager?

Root causes of failure

Whilst there are myriad reasons for project failure these can typically be  aggregated into three problem areas; Stakeholders, Delivery Team and Process.  Furthermore, the specific root cause of the problems identified within these three areas is nearly always related to poor communication, poor project definition and scope creep.

Next time we’ll dig deeper into the most common root causes and how to address these to avoid repeating the problem during the recovery execution.