Trust, But Verify

Jun 22, 2018

You read the status reports.  You attend the steering committee meetings.  You even have 1:1 catch-ups with the PM.  Yet inexplicably the project that’s been reported green week after week, is now reporting as red!  Meaning the original baseline schedule, cost or scope can’t be recovered.  And then all too often the PM goes into defense mode.  ‘We couldn’t have foreseen it’.  ‘We didn’t have the budget’.  And perhaps most incredulously: ‘It would’ve taken me too long to bring someone up to speed, so I did it myself’.

In a multi-million, multi-year, business-critical project, the ‘I’ll do it myself’ mentality is more than naive.  It’s plain stupid.  Large complex projects require specialist skill-sets.  They’re not the forum in which to train junior team-members, second resources from within the business who have no demonstrable capability in the domain concerned, or to play the hero and wear multiple hats – especially when the PM is struggling to execute their own role. Martyrdom, by definition, is a death sentence for PMs.

Regardless of whether it’s the wrong people doing the wrong job, or some other problem, by the time the facts are revealed, all too often it’s too late to preserve the baseline.  Consequently, full realisation of the benefits underpinning the business case becomes an impossibility.

But project sponsors can avoid these surprises. As per the Russian proverb made famous by Ronald Reagan, Doveryai, no proveryai.  Trust but verify.  Prudent sponsors will budget for quality assurance activity in the business case.  Applying this level of rigour and governance to large and complex projects is a no-brainer.  When you think that the weekly cash-burn on these types of projects is typically measured in six figure sums, allocating a fraction of this to a scheduled Project Fitness Test should be considered a self-funding insurance premium.  Early detection of project issues avoids the unwanted surprises and affords the opportunity through coaching and mentoring and/or diligent use of contingency to preserve project value.

Key take-outs:

  • Large and complex projects need specialist team members.
  • Work closely with your PM; but get a second (and objective) opinion. Doveryai, no proveryai. Trust but verify.
  • Allocate funding to scheduled, project assurance activity (Project Fitness Test).

By the way, Mr Gorbachev’s response to Reagan was ‘The reward of a thing well done is to have done it’. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)