Holes can be uncomfortable.  Not admitting you’re in one makes it difficult to get out.  It doesn’t matter how big of a hole we’re talking about, if you don’t admit you’re in one you’re going to creating waste!  Recently I was talking to a company who had completed what was supposed to be a $12 million project. The final price tag was more than double the original estimate.  After 5 years in production they still had not realized the original value they were after from the system. Worse yet they still had people working on fixing the problems introduced 5 years before.  Now the scary part!  The attitude was the project was a success as they were tenacious and kept going … Seriously?!?!

Holes come in many shapes and sizes.  Cost overruns, extended timelines, scope problems, weak methodologies, technical debt, people problems and much more. Sometimes you just picked the wrong project to work on but don’t know it until you’re into it.  Other times you’ve come to realize what it will really cost to deliver.

Regardless of the reason for being in a hole it can be very difficult to admit you’re there. I think it might be instinctive as if we view failure as a threat to our survival.  I’ve seen sales jobs where management convinces those holding the pursue strings the extra money will allow the project get out of the hole. I’ve even seen a culture where failure wasn’t in their vocabulary.  Face it … if you just keep spending money until you deliver you’re going to waste it!

If you’re thinking these types of issues don’t matter think again!  If you stand in your hole and keep digging you’re not making it easier to get out. Aside from the obvious burning of money, being in a hole has an impact on the people. No-one can feel good about being on a project of this nature. Morale, quality, dedication and much more will suffer. The reality is the longer you let these issues go on the more difficult it can be to correct the situation.

What can you do?  First don’t hide the problems!  Are you status reports based solely on facts, or are they influenced by politics and opinion?  Be honest and transparent with both yourself, team, customers and managers.  These are the people who can help you get out of the hole if they know you need help!

  • Encourage transparency!  It’s much like the 12 steps of AA … the first step to fixing your problems is admitting you have one.  This starts with management.  Management needs to make it acceptable to admit there’s problems. What should be unacceptable is hiding them!  I’m not saying you should celebrate, but when you bury your problems you can’t fix them.
  • Host regular project reviews. The worst thing you can do is let a project team go dark for a long period of time.  It becomes too easy to hide things when they’re in the dark, but by bringing them into the light periodically it helps to encourage the right behaviour.
  • Involve the team in the decision making with where to take a troubled project.  After all they know better than anyone what’s going on inside their project work.
  • Sometimes the best course of action is to just kill the project where it stands.  I haven’t into many companies who are good at this, but it should be an important part of the culture. You cannot change the past, but by killing a bad project you will be able to refocus your efforts on things of higher value.
  • Finally the most important part is to learn & improve.  We learn far more when there’s issues then when it’s going great.  So take advantage of the opportunity!

So regardless of it’s shape or size be sure to admit it when you’re standing in a hole!   It’s easier to get out if those around you give you a hand – not like this guy!
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lm8-J1SUiBI]

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