Episode 206: How to Keep your Project out of Trouble (Premium)
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This episode is sponsored by The PDU Podcast:
I am once again joined by Todd Williams, author of the book Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing, and Recovering from Project Failure.
In our last interview Todd gave us an overview over the process, tools & techniques he recommends for rescuing problem projects. As our next step, we want to hear from Todd how he ensures that projects don’t get into trouble in the first place.
Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #206. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner.
This is a premium episode. This is for our premium members which means that because you are listening to it, you are a premium member and you have therefore been entered into our book giveaway. Because I’m once again joined by Todd Williams, author of the book “Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing and Recovering from Project Failure”.
In our last interview, Todd gave us an overview of the processes, tools and techniques that he recommends for rescuing problem projects. But as our next step, we want to hear from Todd how he ensures that projects don’t get into trouble in the first place.
And now without further ado, how are your projects doing? Enjoy the interview.
Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Todd Williams, President of eCameron Inc., author and speaker on Project Turnaround.
Cornelius Fichtner: Welcome back to the PMI Global Congress here in beautiful Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas. Once again, with me is Todd Williams. Hello, Todd!
Todd Williams: Good afternoon, Cornelius! How are you?
Cornelius Fichtner: Very well, thank you. We are still talking about or around your book “Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing and Recovering from Project Failure.”
At the end of the last interview, I asked you for a few recommendations on what our listeners can do to prevent project failure, 3 things that they could do. And what we want to do now is we want to get more in depth into the ‘how’ of doing this.
So I am proposing a hypothetical situation: ‘I have a highly visible project that I’m running in my organization. I’m the sponsor, CEO, some kind of a C-level executive and I’m bringing you in as a management consultant to look at this project. I have a feeling everything is going well. Everything is going okay. It’s just a little bit of a gut feeling something might be off and I want to bring you in to identify any possible problems and to help the project team prevent failure. So now, it’s all up to you, Todd. Where do we start? What do we do? How do we go about doing this?’
Todd Williams: I got really bad news for you, Cornelius.
Cornelius Fichtner: Oh God, no please.
Todd Williams: If you’re looking at this and the project started, you’re too late. And I can’t stress that enough, This is something when you look at failed projects, they are really a manifestation of all of the ills in the organization.
If you have started the project, you’ve already embedded all those ills. You really need to address having a successful project long before the project actually starts. So if you look at this, there are two different ways you can do it:
One is to capitalize on a failure you’ve had before because most likely there has been a failure you’ve had before and you take that failure and what are my lessons learned. And not just a retrospective because the retrospectives, lessons learned, post-mortems, whatever you want to call them too many times people do those write the report and the report ends up in some file cabinet around some shelf and it’s not even worth a paperweight at that point. It’s just it’s not looked at. Take a look at where the problems have been and drill all the way down to actually fix the problem.
Now, let me give you an example. I work on a number of projects where I have the wrong skill set on the team. And it always baffles me: ‘Why did you take a person who doesn’t know how to do this task and put them on this task and expect the project to succeed?’ And people come back to me and say: “Oh, I will do some on-the-job training, good old OJT.” And I kind of look at them and say: “Well, can you show me in the budget where you have extra money allotted for this OJT?”
Cornelius Fichtner: I see where you’re going.
Todd Williams: And they say: “Well, no!”
Cornelius Fichtner: That’s on-the-job training, I don’t need budget!
Todd Williams: I need budget because he or she is going to take longer to actually ramp up the speed. We’ve got that have that training. It just doesn’t materialize magically, boom! They have the knowledge!
So good intentions to get this person into the right skill set and all that but you didn’t budget for it. So now your project looks red or in trouble because you said it’s a big financial spin and things are dragging out in this given area. So instead what you need to do is have the right team to begin with or the right resources in general meaning you have the money to accommodate people getting trained on things.
So I see this all the time. One company, they put a whole bunch of people on the project probably half the team didn’t have the correct skill set and the reason they didn’t was because the company had a philosophy that ‘I’m going to deploy all of our people onto a project and make them billable before I bring in any contractors because the contractor would displace an employee’. And it sounds wonderful for the employees, right? It’s employee first and really has a heart for the employee. But when I ask the question: “Did you train your people to the strategic roadmap of the company?” All I got back was blank stares and the sound of crickets.
And we sat down and said: “Okay, here’s the problem. We need to have this training. Now, what is your strategic roadmap?” More crickets. And so we had to go all the way back to they did not have a strategic roadmap for what they were really trying to achieve in this professional services group. So therefore, they didn’t know what training to provide and therefore they didn’t even know where they were going. So we actually drove down to a point of saying: ‘You need to have a strategic roadmap.’
So when you ask me and you called me as the executive, you can see what I would say: ‘It’s too late.” Because if you didn’t have the strategic roadmap and this project is already running, I don’t even know if that project is on your roadmap. So that’s one of the very first few things that I ask is: Where is this thing going? So make sure that that project is on that roadmap.
What we are talking earlier in the previous episode, I mentioned “listen”. That’s part of what people have to do is listen, listen. What is it that we are trying to achieve, right? So where is the company going?
Cornelius Fichtner: When you say listen, you’re talking about yourself as the person trying to identify whether there is a problem on the project or me as the executive?
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