Did you ever find yourself on a project which is going bad?  There are numerous ways teams and organizations react to project problems. One of the more destructive types I’ve seen is to move to become time driven at all costs.  When time boxing is handled effectively and the project can still deliver some value.  When you become solely focused on time all facets of the project will usually suffer.  You cannot succeed with this approach!

Recently as I was preparing a talk at SDEC’12 in Winnipeg.  I spent some time mind mapping my experiences with this reaction to poor project results.  The one thing I kept being drawn back to is how the whole project will shift to focusing primarily on project achievements.  In a Lean PMO assessment I will ask if you normally place the focus on what is important to the project, or what is important to the customer.  When things are going good I’ve observed people are  more likely to focus on what is important to the customer.   However, on projects where the shift has been made to “time driven at all costs” I’ve seen the achievement focus move to the unhealthy project focus.

So why care?  I’ve seen how destructive this becomes to a project and team in a big hurry.  This shift to being so project focused drags many of the other tenants along with it.  The tenants and their components start heading further away from lean practices.

For example some of the poor behaviours I’ve seen include:

  • placing the focus on project achievements means you will apply the wrong drivers when making product decisions. You are going to make product decisions based on the impact they have on the project, rather than the value proposition/impact for the customer
  • leadership often heads in the wrong direction where managers can be caught in the trap of thinking the only way the team can succeed is if they now provide specific directions of what and when to work on a task
  • collaboration is seen as wasteful and valuable opportunities to work together are dropped in favour of other approaches believed to be faster and more effective such as email
  • IT starts making product decisions.  Need I say more?  If IT is making product decisions you have a serious issue with your system at any time

When you make poor decisions such as those above you’re only going to make a bad situation worse.  It’s a death march to the finish for the team, the customer will not be happy with the result and ultimately your organization will get a bad reputation for delivering weak products.  Worst yet you will ultimately burn out your people and they will walk away unsatisfied. Assuming you manage to deliver something at the end in all likelihood you will be paying the price for your actions for a long time in the form of high support costs.

So what can you do about this?  First don’t fall into the trap of thinking time boxing means you can sacrifice all the other good things you should be doing.  It’s all about keeping the constraints balanced.  Rather than moving further away from Lean practices move towards them:

  • First (and maybe one of the most important items) – stop thinking you as the manager have all the answers and can save the world!  Work with the people you should normally be trusting, and trust them to help you get through this challenging time
  • Be transparent with your customer and team!  Help them understand the problem and how as a collective team you have a challenge in front of you. You will be amazed what the team can accomplish when they are a part of solving the problem
  • Tightening up the decision making process and increase the customer collaboration.  Make sure for each trade-off and decision you’re making the customer is engaged and buys in as well
  • Go back to the basics!  Look at the iron triangle and be sure you don’t break it apart.   If you’re going to shrink the time constraint then work with your team (including your customer) to make decisions everyone can commit to.

When troubles strike don’t betray the things which are going to help you succeed!  It is possible to still deliver value if you work with your team effectively.  Also don’t forget to consider the option of just cancelling the project. If it’s going bad and it’s just not going to derive the value to justify it … cancel it!

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