Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Is Your Project like Afghanistan?

The US faces a problem in Afghanistan.  How to define victory?  If you increase spending and resouces, how do you measure their effectivness?  If you decide you want to end the engagement, how do you do get out?

Have you found yourself in this position on projects?  I have.  The project has totally lost sight of what success would be.  All sorts of interium measure are created to show "progress", but no one really knows to what.  Many of the people working on the project have no where to go if the project is cancelled, so their main goal is keeping the project going.  Going in the frantic circle of showing progress, the project becomes more and more of a death march with the progress made becoming smaller and smaller.  Interestingly, the gap between what is reported and what is reality often becomes larger and larger.  

Do you recognize this situation?

There are really only two questions:
  1. How do you end it?
  2. How do you keep yourself from ever getting in that position again?
How will it end?  The ending is painful.  People are going to have to find new positions, little corporate "white lies" have to be exposed, and if the project is large enough, some people probably leave the company.  It started so well and went so wrong.  I wish there were an easy way to do it, but there isn't.

How to keep yourself from getting into that position again?  There are two steps one can take.
  1. Set up SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievabe, Realistic and Timebased) deliverables. 
  2. Create contingency plans or exits at major deliverables.  If a project can't reach the deliverable, there is a known way it will end.
These are simple and doable.  Are there other ways people have found to avoid Afghanistan Projects?

1 comment:

Pawel Brodzinski said...

Sometimes a project can achieve its goals but the goals themselves aren't relevant any more. In my first project back then when I was a developer that was exactly the case.

I think the main responsibility for keeping dead-end project alive is on management (probably top management). Yes, in that case they're lied by the project team so it's harder to judge the real status of the project, but being ill-informed about projects you're responsible for is also a management fault.

Anyway, from my experience it's quite common when management is reluctant to kill a project even when it brings loses and things don't look like they are about to change soon. I'm still shocked how management of one of my past companies forced to keep development of one of product lines while for everyone it was clear the product isn't catching the market and implementation costs are vastly underestimated. Two years later they lost their biggest clients and they're moving other projects to spin-off company, a clear sign they want to close a business. They didn't have enough courage to make a decision about killing the biggest project in the company. And that's quite typical situation I'd say.