Rescuing Troubled Projects 5

Rescuing Troubled Projects 5

This is the fifth installment of Rescuing Troubled Projects.   This time we will discuss getting sign-off on key documents and scheduling for large troubled projects.  If you missed any of the prior installments, then you can read them here.

Frequently at troubled projects I find key documents, such as charters and requirements, have not been signed off.  Yes, that’s right. I said charters and requirements have not been signed off.  Sometimes, they don’t exist at all!

While a signature won’t save you, it certainly helps.

Unfortunately, savvy or recalcitrant clients will delay signing key documents and encourage teams to work anyway.  Statements like, “you have to start or we will miss the date” coerce the team into working without a baseline document.

One technique that has proven effective in these situations is to hold a “Nobody leaves until its signed meeting”.  This is a simple, but effective technique.

Call a meeting with the people that you want to sign the document.  These must be people with the authority to change and sign the document, not lackeys!  Tell them that you will provide breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, if needed, and lay out the ground rules:

  1.  You will project the document in question on a screen.
  2.  You will make and agree upon changes on the spot.
  3.  You will print and sign the final before anyone leaves the meeting, even if that requires the entire day.

Please note that this technique is not a JAD session.  It is used when you are having sign-off trouble, not when you are just starting the document.

One more warning…  This does not work nearly as well for internal projects, although it is still worth a try.

One thing that I have observed over the years is that all schedules look good to the untrained eye. I have had to bite my lip through a number of presentations where it was obvious (at least to me) that the schedule could never be worked, only to have the audience applaud at the end.

Another thing I have noticed about schedules is that they take a long time to build for large, complex projects!  Now, this is problematic when you are sent to a troubled project!  Just how will you find time to build and maintain a schedule for a large project that is already in a hole when you get there?

Now please don’t misunderstand me!  As a project manager, I find it difficult and dangerous to work without a plan and a schedule.  This is often how the project got in the hole in the first place.  The issue is that troubled projects often do not have a workable schedule.

If you are a project manager, you should already know that it is imperative to focus on critical path activities.  But, if the project does not have a schedule, or it has a very poor excuse for a schedule (little more than a task list), and maybe an incomplete one at that, what can you do?

I recommend that you try novel methods to cope with giant schedules.

One technique that I have used successfully is to create a self-balancing block structured schedule. This method assigns each resource a 40-hour block each week, regardless of the actual time spent.  The blocks chain week to week by resource.  Therefore, the resources are always balanced at 40 hours!  Each week the team members simply enter their hours against the weekly block.

You start by building a higher level schedule without resources, so that you can determine the critical path and quickly determine the flow of the project.  You then build in resource blocks a month at a time.  One advantage is that this kind of schedule can be built as you go.  You can teach an admin to maintain and update the schedule.  I have.

This is not a perfect solution!  It tends to cloud the critical path somewhat, and it limits visibility to the lower level.  However, on large projects the trade-off is often worth it. Also, you and/or your team leads must use spreadsheets or some method of assigning and tracking the low level tasks.

By the way, pass this by Quality Assurance and get approval to use this technique!  You will have to explain it and assure everyone that it is valid and safe given the process you plan to follow.

Next time we will discuss the joy of every PM, status reports and financials.

See you then!