“When Failure Is A Success”

I was at a seminar recently and the question came up about the risk appetite of an organisation. One delegate was saying that their organisation was very risk adverse. It was noted that annual performance assessment reporting did not help as it is viewed that if your project fails, you get marked down.

Question: As a Project Manager, does this mean that your project cannot fail in order to get promoted?

Answer: NO, NO, NO !!

I’m sure you’ve all been on a ‘death march’ project.
(Wiki) In the software development and software engineering industries, a ‘death march’ is a dysphemism for a project that is destined to fail. Usually it is a result of unrealistic or overly optimistic expectations in scheduling, feature scope, or both, and often includes lack of appropriate documentation, or any sort of relevant training. The knowledge of the doomed nature of the project weighs heavily on the phyche of its participants, as if they are helplessly watching the team as it marches into the sea. Often the death march will involve gruelling hours, weekends, or by attempting to ‘throw (enough) bodies at the problem’ with varying results, often causing burnout.
The addition of extra people then invokes Brooks’s law, which is the principle in software development, which says ‘adding manpower to a late software project makes it later’.
This is not a good place to be, but eventually the project is deemed a success (or dropped quietly and never spoken about again) and the lucky few that are still standing check into rehab for some well-deserved rest & recuperation.

So back to annual reports, bonuses and promotion. Well I hate to break it to you Project Mangers out there, but your project, is not really yours. I know you’ve given blood, sweat and tears in trying to deliver it and that you view it as your baby, but in the cold light of day, it’s owned by the Board and is driven by the Business Case. Sorry.

So if you have an objective in your performance criteria of “Deliver Project X in accordance with appropriate Project Management standards”

According to PRINCE2, an appropriate standard, ‘If a Business Case is valid at the start of the project, but this justification disappears once the project is underway, the project should be stopped’.

So bear this in mind. If your project has been stopped, as despite your best efforts it no longer will achieve the benefits identified in the Business Case, then the project may have failed, but you have successfully and professionally managed the process, possibly saving the Company millions of pounds and/or human resource impact. Hold your head up high, log the Lessons Learned and move on with confidence to your next project.

Fail early, fail cheaply !!

Have a Great Weekend


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