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Do You Know Where Your IT Projects Are? Part 3.

In this third of four articles, Yogi Schulz describes 12 signs of impending IT project doom that are visible months before catastrophe strikes.

Project Organization

Good – I’ve created a reasonably clear organization chart.  Names and titles are shown.  The chart shows few empty boxes.  For example, I recognize many of the names on the org chart.

Bad – I’ve created more than one organization chart with many lines.  Some names or titles are missing.  The org charts show multiple empty boxes.  It’s not clear who does what.  For example, the org chart shows a number of crossing lines; there are lots of different colors whose meaning is not clear.

Ugly – I’m not clear who is on the project team.  Various part-timers, who belong to other departments or groups, appear to have some vague role on the project team.  Consultants hold most of the leadership positions.  For example, there’s no org chart, only a list of people, some with question marks beside their names.

The Fix

  • Create a project organization chart.  Find the people needed to position the project for success.
  • Define roles and responsibilities.  Empowerment is too often subverted in ways that allow individuals to run amuck with few tangible achievements.
  • The application of the virtual organization model can result in little or no progress.  Fill vacancies.  Too many vacancies hamper progress.
  • Successful project managers work hard to organize individuals into a well-functioning project team.

Project Resources

Good – Most individuals on the project organization chart are assigned full-time and are employees.  We are using contractors where needed but not too many.  For example, the project team includes individuals from the key departments that will be affected by the project.

Bad – More individuals are part-time or contract staff than are full-time employees.  We just don’t have enough full-time employees to spare.  For example, the project team includes part-time individuals from key departments who are still expected to fulfill their regular duties.  For example, the project team consists of about 80% contractors because key departments claim they can’t spare full-time employees.

Ugly – We’re using the virtual resource concept.  We rely on various individuals within the company and perhaps at various vendors to perform assigned project tasks when asked in additional to their regular duties.  For example, our small project team is making specific requirements gather assignments to knowledgeable individuals in key departments.  For example, our small project team is contracting knowledgeable individuals who work for various vendors to complete software design assignments

The Fix

  • Staff the project team with mostly full-time individuals.  Part-time staff, with divided loyalties, tends to be less productive.
  • Contain the number of contractors.  Too many contractors can cause a loss of focus on business priorities.
  • Try to minimize the geographic dispersion of the project team.  Geographic dispersion increases costs and reduces clarity of communication even with a unified communication system.
  • Successful project managers work hard to resource the project with as much expertise and experience as they can acquire.

Project Steering Committee

Good – I ensure that key business areas that will be affected by the project are represented on the project steering committee.  The committee meets every 4 to 6 weeks.  Meetings consist of a productive combination of project status reporting and issue resolution.  For example, the project manager presents a regular report, is questioned in detail about issues in ways that is supportive of the project manager’s efforts.

Bad – The committee doesn’t exist as far as I, as project manager, can tell.  The project team usurps management authority by making up the answers it wants on major issues that have organization-wide impacts.  For example, the project team makes up answers on product pricing and shipping options for the web site because its choices simplify the required code.

Ugly – Committee membership is unclear to me or meetings are sporadic and/or offer little content.  The role of the committee is not well-understood by the members of the committee.  There is conflict among committee members.  For example, at occasional meetings of the project steering committee, the project manager’s presentation is interrupted by a member of the committee laying blame for some problem on another member of the committee.

The Fix

  • Create a project steering committee.  Projects without steering committees to provide guidance and break through road blocks tend not to produce successful outcomes.  The mere existence of this committee forcefully tells the project team and other stakeholders that this project matters to the organization.
  • Ensure executives with sufficient authority are members of the project steering committee.  Senior management sometimes tries to delegate membership down too far in the organization.  This results in an ineffective committee.
  • Hold regular meetings.  Regular meetings with real examination of project issues improve the productivity and quality of project team performance.  Inexperienced project staff fears this approach because they think it makes them look ineffective.  More experienced staff recognize that they need the senior help to push through needed change and that their efforts will be recognized as valuable leadership.
  • Successful project managers lead the project steering committee meetings.

Stakeholder Communication

Good – I’ve ensured effective communication to the various stakeholders.  I’ve led efforts by the project team to enhance collaboration among stakeholders to achieve project success.  For example, I’ve seen the project team facilitate discussions between the materials receiving group and the manufacturing scheduling group to reduce bottlenecks.

Bad – The communication to the various stakeholders that I’ve witnessed is sporadic.  The project team is sending inconsistent, even contradictory messages.  Some stakeholders are communicating inconsistent messages about their involvement with and commitment to the project.  For example, the project team planned for newsletters.  The first one was excellent, the second one was good and now 6 months have gone by and we have yet to see issue #3.

Ugly – I’ve not observed effective communication to the various stakeholders.  The project team is unsure what to say or is not communicating anything for fear of offending someone.  Communication among stakeholders is tense, bordering on conflict.  For example, the project team made some useful suggestions for improving customer data quality in the CRM system.  However, the Sales Department saw these ideas as over-kill and was critical of the project team.  We haven’t heard much from the project team since then.

The Fix

  • Develop ideas for ramping up stakeholder communications.  Use e-mail, web sites, newsletters and town hall meetings.
  • Take steps to enhance collaboration among stakeholders, perhaps through workshops, to build consensus on goals and priorities.
  • Sometimes formally signed-off decision records and formally approved project deliverables are needed to convincingly demonstrate progress.
  • Successful project managers create a comprehensive stakeholder communications plan and execute it seriously.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below

Yogi Schulz is a partner at Corvelle Consulting.  The firm specializes in project management and information technology related management consulting. Mr. Schulz holds a B.Com. from The University of Calgary, is a member of CIPS and holds its ISP designation. He has presented at many conferences, writes for the Microsoft web site and appears on CBC’s Wild Rose Forum. Mr.Schulz can be reached at [email protected].


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