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Episode 260: The Seven Steps to Rescuing the Problem Project (Free)

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Episode 260: The Seven Steps to Rescuing the Problem Project (Free)It seemed that in the final weeks of 2013, project management was on everyone’s mind. And not in a good way. The roll-out of the affordable care act website really brought to light that substandard project performance can have a disastrous effect on public perception. While we often hear about failed government projects, failed private sector projects seem to fly under the radar.

In today’s interview we welcome Todd C. Williams (http://ecaminc.com/ - http://www.linkedin.com/in/backfromred) has spent the past 25 years advising Fortune 500 companies on what to do about projects that are either headed for a cliff or have already gone over.

We begin the interview by looking at what makes government projects uniquely susceptible to a higher failure rate than private sector projects and then move into seven steps that Todd recommends for recovering a troubled project.

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. 

 

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode # 260. This is the Project Management Podcast at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Nice to have you with us.

It seemed that in the final weeks of 2013, project management was on everyone's mind and not in a good way. The roll out of the Affordable Care Act website really brought to light that substandard project performance can have disastrous effects on public perception. While we often hear about failed government projects, failed private sector projects seem to fly under the radar.

In today's interview, we welcome Todd C. Williams who has spent the past 25 years advising Fortune 500 companies on what to do about projects that are either headed for a cliff or have already gone over.

We begin the interview by looking at what makes government projects uniquely susceptible to a higher failure rate than private sector projects and then move into seven steps that Todd recommends for recovering a troubled project.

And now, motion to move forward with the interview. Seconded and here we go.

Podcast Interview

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Todd Williams, expert witness, executive consultant, and President of eCameron.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Todd and welcome back to The Project Management Podcast™!

Todd C. Williams: Oh, welcome Cornelius. Hope you're having a great day!

Cornelius Fichtner: I am, thank you very much. But it seems to me that there are some people out there who are not having a great day because we are hearing a lot about seemingly failed projects especially from the public sector these days and that's why we have brought you on because one of your expertise is turning projects around. So tell me, are government projects more likely to fail than the ones in the private sector?

Todd C. Williams: Well, I think in general, no. But they definitely get a lot more visibility. I mean nothing spells a day worse than having CNN at your front door when you get up in the morning which I think has probably happened to a lot of people when we look at healthcare.gov, what's going on with the traffic control, with all the other projects that are out there.

But I think that you'll also see that there are other projects that are equally as bad in that it's places out there like the Boeing 787. I mean how many years late was it. Once it got flying then it started having batteries which just kind of spontaneously catch on fire.

Those projects do seem to hit both the private and public sector. I think the private sector by just the nature of the name was able to keep it a little more private.

Cornelius Fichtner: Are there any characteristics, any components that favor one type of project over the others in regards to success?

Todd C. Williams: Well I do think that the private sector projects do have one very nice feature about them and that is that they're autocratic by nature, right? There's someone who's at the top that actually does say: "This is the direction we're going to go and everybody needs to fall in line." There may be some level of, what do we call it, democracy or getting your ideas together whenever you're trying to figure out what projects to run and where the company wants to go. But once that decision is made, once the "vote" gets taken, then everyone has to jump on board and toe the line. We've got to all follow that direction, otherwise, we don’t have a job.

In the public sector, you don’t quite have that. Once you have a vote and you say: "Hey, we're going to go this direction!" It can be 51% in favor of some sort of initiative, or care or whatever and all of a sudden the other 49 want to continue to fight about it afterwards. Then that's going to cause a problem and so you're going to continue to have that. If you don’t have everybody on board to make things work, then a public sector project is going to have a lot more trouble.

There are other things, even if you did get everybody on board and everyone's moving down the line to where they need to, then all of a sudden election comes up and the administration changes. Those happen on most cases in every 2 years. Sometimes, it's 4 years but there's always some cycle that goes on in that 2-year realm and if things start to sway one way or the other, then you start losing sponsorship. You start losing drive. So there are a lot of other factors that happen in a public sector project that make it a little more cantankerous, let's say.

Cornelius Fichtner: Why do we hear so much more about failed or seemingly failed government projects but not really all that much from the private sector? I mean if you ask me: What's the last big failed project you heard of? I'd go: "In the private sector," like you said "the Boeing" right "the Dreamliner" that's about it that I can instantly remember.

Todd C. Williams: That's true! Part of the reason is who really knows about those failures in the private sector are maybe stockholders. And even then, some of them don’t even see what's going on. Private sector does have a lack of transparency that they don’t have to show things to the public as much as you do whenever you're actually dealing with a public sector project.

By definition, a public sector project has to be able to say: "Here's what's going on? Here are the deadlines and here's what we're doing." In addition, public sector projects usually have the public as the user so instead of having something that may be is a business-to-business type relationship it might fail; now, we're having something where some sector of the population is using it and it's blaringly obvious if something isn’t working right and things are falling apart and people are getting frustrated and upset.

So it's very hard to hide something that's failed and some sort of government job. Where if you're with Boeing and you're trying to put together something else for some other company, you can tend to hide that because the general public isn’t out there actually experiencing on the first-hand basis. So I think the problems exist and probably some of the bigger, more beautiful failures actually happen in private industry, you just don’t see them so much.

Cornelius Fichtner: Do we as citizens have an effect on the success of failure of a government project?

Todd C. Williams: Oh I think we very much do. We're looking at, let's go right back to what I said at the beginning and that is if 51% of the people vote to have something be put into place and a project goes in around that and 49% of the people are still fighting against it, then yes, we're going to have a huge effect making that project fail. If instead we say: "Okay, that's the way we're going to go and we have to live it." And we have to live with it. And then we jump on board and try to make it the best thing we can and try to move and be a positive force in that. Now I think we can make it move forward.

And that is no comment one way or the other Democrat or Republican and I wanted to fuse that with the current situations that we have out there. Because if we go back through time, we'll see the same thing in other administrations where the "losing party" didn’t get behind what was going on and didn’t support it and then things started to fail fairly rapidly.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! So these are all the reasons why public sector project seemingly fail. Let's turn the ship around here. Let's talk a little bit about what we can do about it starting with from the ten-thousand foot level and learn from the private sector. So what aspects of the private sector projects can we bring on to government projects to improve success rates?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

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