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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Failed Projects: You Can Do Worse

Failed Projects: You Can Do Worse post image

Recently I was reminded one of my past failed projects. One which was screwed big time. Actually Standish Group would call it challenged since it was finished after all facing significant slip and some functionality cut offs. But don’t believe them. It was a fail.

After initial few months we knew we’re going to hit the wall hard with our heads. And we did it. I mean we hit the wall freaking hard. After reaching (not so) happy ending I thought you can’t do much worse. A list of sins was pretty impressive:

  • Crappy estimation. Actually we did only coarse-grain estimates with no detailed analysis of specific requirements our client wanted.
  • Scope creep. We welcomed it warmly. Every feature which didn’t look like a big one made it into the specs no matter how far we went in negotiations. Needless to say deadline and price remained frozen.
  • Wishful thinking. We agreed to deadlines we wished we were able to keep. Well, that’s why they call them “wishes” after all.
  • Ignoring process on client side. They had some procedures. You know, like 2-month acceptance tests or something. Who would care though? We expected we’d do it like every other project where we skipped much of formalisms. Guess what. Procedures won. At least first three rounds.
  • Compromising quality. As soon as we ate all buffers and we were still in the middle of nowhere we just pushed development skipping most of this whole quality assurance thing. QA is overrated anyway.

And these were only the most significant screw ups. You can’t do much worse, can you?

Well, yes, you can.

After all we put much effort to rescue whatever left to be rescued. We tried to work something out and we were able to get client involved in mitigation plan. We actually had pretty good project manager who was trying to clean as much mess as possible. We had team working their butts off to push things forward. We had management which took all the shit on their heads isolating people from unnecessary stress.

I imagined there was none of these. No real project manager (at least one who cares), people working 9-17 and not even a minute longer, managers who aren’t interested in fixing things and client who can only yell at the vendor for each failed promise and not trying to help much.

That would be such a nice catastrophe.

So yes, you definitely can do worse. You can say you don’t give a damn and things will definitely get worse. Much worse. No matter how bad they are at the moment.

When you lack ability, experience and knowledge you may fail. Odds are good you will. But as long as you care you give yourself, and your client, a chance. A chance Standish Group will qualify your project as challenged, not failed. A chance you client won’t hate you. A chance to rescue some reputation.

As the Christmas time approaches I wish you all to face fewer failures and more successes next year.

in: project management

2 comments… add one

  • Max Walker December 23, 2009, 1:43 pm

    I like your list of contributors to failure. It’s relevant in small, informal PM environments as well as formal and hired PM environments. I write about these informal PM environments at CottagePM.com. I would argue that this list is just as relevant for them as for your environment. These are core planning and control aspects to PM, and can make or break an IT release project and a family reunion project alike. Good summary!

  • Pawel Brodzinski December 24, 2009, 2:51 am

    A thing I would add is that in small informal projects role of care is significantly bigger. You can screw more things but as far as you strive to deliver (whatever it means in context of a project) your job reception will be positive.

    In bigger projects it is harder simply because process plays more important role.

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