Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Before the Project Becomes Yours

Ever "inherit" a project? Ever inherit one where the expectations seem unrealistic? Or just plain crazy?

Yeah, I've had a few of those, too.

So what do you do? Your boss calls the project as an "opportunity" for you to show your stuff? It's a vote of confidence. Or is it? Could you be the scapegoat being positioned to take the blame for someone else's brain fart?

Or perhaps while the expectations may look high, you agree it's a noble endeavor -- good for the company, that is.

But is it good for you?

Maybe. But maybe not. It all depends on what you do. And what you do never matters more than what you do when you first take the reins.

What are the choices?

You could dive right in and start problem solving -- that's probably your natural reaction. It certainly was mine. The usual rationalization is there's no time to waste, or that you can learn what is going on best by doing, digging, and responding.

You could review status, testing the resource levels versus the targets. Checking to make sure the right people are deployed in the right roles. You could develop a new pathway to a successful project end. This is a useful step, but not where I recommend you start.

Before the project becomes yours, you should review the justification. Review the project documents. The write ups, the financial analysis, the presentations. Test and evaluate the underlying assumptions. There is no more important place to start than here. Why? Because I've observed that the vast majority of projects are already successes or failures BEFORE they are started.

Someone in senior management wants to do something (for example: open a new plant, or maybe close an old one). Do you think they waited for a thorough analysis to support their desired project? Most don't. And even if they do, they, or at least their staffs, already know what the "right" answer is. They often bend and twist the analysis to support their preconceived outcome. I've seen it happen over and over again. Conversely, the number of times I've seen objective analysis drive the decision (without the pre-existing prejudice) could be counted on two hands.

If you're inheriting the project, it probably comes complete with such assumptions -- ones that aren't particularly realistic or well founded. And if you don't raise the red flag early and often, they will become your assumptions. You will own them, too.

So what do you do? Test every assumption, especially the ones that look risky. Bring up your concerns with bosses at every opportunity. Call foul if you can. Better to say -- "This project is never going to pay off" on day two, rather then being assessed as a failure on day two hundred.

Of course, you have to play politics as you do this. If you just inherited your boss'es pet project, and he drove all those crazy assumptions, your hands will be at least partially tied. But do what you can to protect yourself and your reputation from the faulty project

And remember -- silence is viewed as agreement. Always.

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