Project Failures in terms of Consequences, Industry metrics, the central role of a PM

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This is a 4 minutes blog. It looks at project failures in terms of consequences, industry metrics, the central role of a PM, and the two levels of PM effectiveness.

Project Failure Consequences –

Project failures trigger tsunamis of consequences that reach into every corner of a company. Among the first to feel its swift shock waves are those IT managers involved in a failed project. Their fast-track careers are suddenly submerged in doubt. Career discussions are put on hold, job assignments are reduced in importance or size; these managers experience an uncomfortable sense of drift and uncertainty in the job.

Also impacted are the senior and executive managers at the company. They are keenly aware of the unacceptably high project failure rates which hover at 50%. They feel compelled to take steps that show the world that they are aware, involved and acting decisively. In some cases, project failures lead them to let loose a torrent of management changes that ripple across the organization, sparing no one. Often, new IT managers are brought in from the outside with an order from management to “turn things around, right the ship, get the damn job done”.  No one has data on how long this turnover process usually takes, but you can be sure that it will happen.

Key Questions We All Have to Answer –

With stakes so high, it is incumbent on IT professionals to take a long, hard look at the Project Manager’s central role in managing projects and ask four key questions:

1) Is the current pool of PMs up to the task?

It is alarming to read studies that show between 30 – 50 % of all projects are led by PMs who are deemed, based on evaluations by fellow project team members, as too light for the PM role. PM deficits are cited in skills, experience and a lack of in-depth knowledge in key areas such as application development, business analysis, senior management, etc. The data indicates that these PMs are viewed as Low-impact PMs; they tend to watch projects from afar and function like administrators, instead of acting as project activists who daily confront and overcome obstacles and problems. Their inadequacy is all the more troubling when you consider that studies show that the PM function is in position to address between 55 and 100 % of the main causes of project failures!

2) Would the project success rate be higher with better PMs?

So, here we have a perfect storm: the very resource (a Low-impact PM) that is relied on to be an answer to at least half of the causes of project failure is unprepared and ill equipped to confront and resolve those causes. Based on these realities, it is no wonder that 50+% of projects fail. The conclusion is: that High-impact PMs, equipped with stronger skills and experience, are able to address the causes of failure and, ultimately, improve project success rates. The good news is that by upgrading just one resource, from Low-impact to High-impact PM (HIPM), you can improve the probability of success.

3) What does a “better PM” look like?

Simply put, High-impact PM types become the glue that holds the project and the project team together. Their experience in key disciplines enables them to anticipate and solve problems at the earliest point, question assumptions, progress and estimates based on years of experience, quickly spot problems, dig into details, realistically assess the level of risk, effectively improvise solutions and conduct authoritative, confidence building meetings with stakeholders.

The personality make up of HIPMs is a key ingredient in their effectiveness. HIPMs are people of action, they exhibit many traits of a classic “Driver”, they are comfortable with leading but example. They know only one mode of work: totally immerse themselves in a project, up to their chins. They eat, sleep and wake up thinking about the project; their minds are constantly thinking about deliverables, potential problems, and proactive steps. They obsess on the project because that is who they are. HIPMs believe that success hinges on mastery of the devil in the details; for them, there is no other way than to go deep and deeper until problems are fully understood and resolved. They welcome the challenge of getting into the nitty gritty, they feel that this is what they are born to do.

4) What do we do now?

An obvious first step is to benchmark your PM pool against industry numbers – are one third to one half of your PM staff Low-impact PMs? If the answer is “Yes”, you should talk with PM-focused consulting companies to discuss which services are most beneficial to your company at this time.

On the other hand, even if you feel that your PM pool is strong, you should still consider conducting a short, 30 day “make sure”, review of the PM function. The goal is to ensure that there aren’t hidden issues or risks lurking in the PM function.

Summit Technology Partners has a line of services and resources that focus on your Project Managers and their work. The company’s goal is to immediately increase the effectiveness of your PMs with the ultimate aim of improving a client’s project success rates. We work in 30 day sprints; our mode is “intense action”. We jump into the trenches and the details in order to produce positive changes and meaningful improvements, quickly – we tackle the hard stuff, which is what we like to do. We don’t do academic reports that decorate a shelf in an office. We strive to have help PMs and have significant positive impact, quickly.