Some Thoughts: Storm Warnings in projects

Over the course of my career I have spent a considerable amount of time reviewing projects, proposals for projects and related aspects of the lifecycle.. In a number of instances this has led on to examining the causes of problems and trying to find ways of resolving issues. Consequently I was interested to read a post by Michael Krigsman  about early warning signs of Project Failure.

He wrote:-i

Managers often express surprise upon learning their project will run late or over-budget. Nonetheless, we frequently ignore early warnings signs that indicate a project faces trouble.

For an academic article on this subject titled Early Warning Signs of IT Project Failure: The Dominant Dozen, two researchers collected data from 19 experts and 55 IT project managers. The researchers discovered an important lesson: “significant symptoms or ‘early warning signs’ of trouble” often are present long before a project actually fails.

This grabbed my attention, because some years ago whilst running the Project Quality Office for a major vendor my team and I spent considerable time and effort on seeing if we could identify flags which might indicate trouble. I christened them ‘Storm Warnings’

The article ,referenced by Krigsman, describes twelve warning signs, divided into people-related risks and process-related risks:

People-Related Risks

  • Lack of top management support
  • Weak project manager
  • No stakeholder involvement and/or participation
  • Weak commitment of project team
  • Team members lack requisite knowledge and/or skills
  • Subject matter experts are overscheduled

Process-related Risks

  • No business case for the project
  • Lack of documented requirements and/or success criteria
  • No change control process (change management)
  • Ineffective schedule planning and/or management
  • Communication breakdown among stakeholders
  • Resources assigned to a higher priority project

Continued high rates of failure suggest that most organizations ignore these early warning signs.

I don’t disagree with the above at all. In fact there are a number of other items I would add to the lists. Of which more another day.

Some Thoughts:-

What struck me though when I looked at these factors was how they interlinked with and exemplified a number of other matters I have commented on recently.

For example the issues raised by Professor Mary Gentile on Voicing Values in the Workplace. The factors identified above raise a number of flags in my mind as to the nature of governance in an organisation where some or all of the above may exist. In addition I wonder about the underlying values within the organisation.

In addition, one factor that stands out from looking at the issues identified from the research cited is the question of value. Why, oh why are projects being undertaken where the value to be derived is either weakly derived, if at all, and success criteria are non-existent to poorly defined. As I noted here, a critical element in successful delivery is understanding value creation. Again governance at the enterprise level is critical.

So yes, the factors identified in the research posted about by Michael Krigsman are relevant, they and others provide ‘Storm Warnings’. Yet, as well they should be prompting greater concerns about the enterprise as a whole and not just a particular project.

These 4 concerns relate to:-

  1. What, if any. governance framework is in place?
  2. How does the enterprise assess and manage risk?
  3. How does the board discharge it’s responsibilities?
  4. Why executive management do not appear to be fulfilling their role?

I say this, because when you look at and consider the People and Process related risks identified in the research it is my contention that the existence of these risks flows directly from weaknesses/failings relating to the 4 four concerns, which reflect critical elements of governance. In turn weaknesses here will result in a failure to create value.

After problems in one project are likely to be symptomatic of problems in others.

I am interested to see what others think.


One response to “Some Thoughts: Storm Warnings in projects

  1. Pingback: Novopay #2 | Some Thoughts – Peter Salmon's Website

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