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Diagnosing the Situation

Admit You Have a Problem

"As with any problem, the first step is to admit you have the problem. This step is one of the two hardest steps to take in the process. It takes a log of wisdom, vision, courage, political clout and probably job security to admit that a highly visible, mission critical project is out of control. Some project sponsors and IT management people are like bad investors: they stick with the dogs (projects that are losing money) instead of cutting their losses. They think they can spend their way out of a bad project - throwing good money after bad."

"Don't get bamboozled by optimistic opinions. This frequently occurs because many people say, 'I'm this close, I just need one more month.' This belief tends to have no grounding in fact and that last month never comes. If your team is still waiting for that last month, chances are they are only hoping it will come. It is not coming."

Stop the Project

"Once you admit to having the problem, it's time to put a tourniquet on the bleeding. By continuing, you are burning more hours and cost against the project and you really don't know where you are going. Out of all the steps, stopping the project is the hardest and scariest. Here is where that wisdom, vision, courage, political clout and job security will be tested. You will be challenged and presented with countless reasons why the project needs to roll on (remember there's only one more month to go!). Many will point to the considerable amount of money and time already spent on the project. They will fear that stopping the project will stop the momentum. This may appear to be true because you may be at a point when some tasks and deliverables are actually being completed or being declared completed. If you're working with a vendor, it may threaten to pull its team out because you are stopping the project and you fear that all that project knowledge will walk out the door. This may be true, but it will give you an insight into your relationship with that vendor. You probably don't want a partner that is there only during the good times (in other words it is getting paid regularly). You want a partner that has a vested interest in the project' success and your success as well."

"However, if you don't stop, the results down the line will be even scarier. Because of the accumulation of time, cost, and aggravation, the project could reach its breaking point and collapse under its own weight; you have no choice but to stop. If you don't rescue the project, someone else (usually higher than you on the food chain) could come in and tell you enough is enough and that it is time to stop the hemorrhaging of money. Stop, replan, and then decide how or whether to move forward."

Conduct the Project Audit

"Now that you're past the two most difficult, politically charged steps, it's time to conduct the assessment phase of the project audit, using the key questions from the previous chapter. We have also included a useful audit checklist in Chapter 18. Remember, the intent of the audit is to help you uncover the root cause(s) of the runaway project. It should not be used for ammunition to punish the guilty party. You will probably find that there is no guilty party; rather, most members of the extended project team have had a hand in the decimation of the project. If you use the audit as an execution tool, you will never again get the opportunity to use this critical tool for discerning project problems."

"Often, the best way to conduct the audit is to use an outside service provider. By utilizing a trusted outside auditor, you send the message that finding the answers is important. After all, you are spending 'real money' to do the audit. Also, the outside auditor usually has no political baggage to threaten the project team. The auditor should be well versed in creating an open, comfortable environment that is conducive to open communication, honesty and trust. No matter who conducts the audit, it's important to utilize different methods for assessment. A combination of individual interviews and facilitated sessions usually works well. Try to avoid the formal questionnaire because you will be asking the respondent to interpret the meaning of the questions. Face-to-face communication should always be you first choice. In the facilitated sessions, try to group the participants in peer groups. Conduct separate sessions for the technical team and the subject matter experts. To facilitate open communication, separate the management team from the respective worker-bee team. Finally, when documenting the results, try not to attribute any remarks or quotes to an individual."

Review the Project Audit Results (1)

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Closing Perspective

The above is an excerpt from a book written by Sanjiv Purba and Joseph Zucchero, published by McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2100 Powell Street, 10th Floor, Emeryville, California 94608 U.S.A. Sanjiv has over 20 years of experience managing large projects and many years engaged in rescuing ailing projects.