A Ticking Timebomb

I love my job. I love working on projects and I love getting to the point when the strain is relieved and things start to work. At that point, I’m often told ‘you guys at RNC are really lucky, every time you turn up things are easier’. I used to be offended but these days I look forward to what I call the ‘coincidence conversation’. A lot of hard work goes into that coincidence.

Today I was in another post project review. We were reviewing a project that had been very red (and yes there are degrees but that’s for another blog). The project had trundled on for months and months with really good looking reports and statements of confidence. It was within budget and time. Then, to everyone’s surprise and dismay, it wasn’t. It was in chaos.

It took a concerted effort with high energy, focus, executive support and dedication to grapple it to being under control. It’s now been declared complete and The Executive decided it was prudent to have a look at what happened and how to avoid it next time.

To the continued surprise and dismay of those gathered, it became clear the seeds of ‘red’ were sown at the start of the project. Those seeds were tended, with lack of clarity about the end point and who was responsible for what; with untested (and often unspoken) assumptions; trust without verification; avoidance of hard conversations; and a whole serving of hope. It became clear the project was set up to achieve ‘red’ from the start. Requests for resources, authority and time had gone unheard. Despite that the PM trundled on attempting to make up for the lack of essentials. The Executive having shut down the requests and associated noise, believed the reports that all was well.

The PM became a passenger on the project and had little influence or authority over what people were doing and when.

We worked it through and on every single topic there was dissention. Some were annoyed that others thought they should have done things they didn’t do, some said they had no idea what they should have done, and some thought they didn’t need to do anything unless they were asked. There was no consensus on the outcome of the project and no one whom everyone believed to be the single source of truth about the outcome.

When it came to the plan, there was one but not one anyone believed. But they continued on.
The real question for me is how did this project get beyond week one? It was a fairly straight forward project that has now cost the organization, time, money, resources, lost opportunity, diminished return on the investment and reputational damage. It’s also cost careers and jobs.

The remedy when it was taken was effective and swift (another coincidence). Will they learn and do the hard stuff up front? I don’t know, I hope so.