Software

20 cynical project management tips

Ever wonder why so many projects fail? Well, here's your guide to the seamy underbelly of IT project management.

This is a guest post from Michael Krigsman of TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet. You can follow Michael on his ZDNet blog IT Project Failures, or subscribe to the RSS feed. 

Ever wonder why so many projects fail? Well, here's your guide to the seamy underbelly of IT project management.

From Tony Collins, who writes a well-researched blog on government-related IT failures in the UK:

  1. Projects with realistic budgets and timetables don't get approved.
  2. The more desperate the situation the more optimistic the progress report.
  3. A user is somebody who rejects the system because it's what he asked for.
  4. The difference between project success and failure is a good PR company.
  5. Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn't have to do it.
  6. Every failing, overly ambitious project, has at its heart a series of successful small ones trying to escape.
  7. A freeze on change melts whenever heat is applied.
  8. You understood what I said, not what I meant.
  9. If you don't know where you're going, just talk about specifics.
  10. If at first you don't succeed, rename the project.
  11. Everyone wants a strong project manager - until they get him.
  12. Only idiots own up to what they really know (thank you to President Nixon).
  13. The worst project managers sleep at night.
  14. A failing project has benefits which are always spoken of in the future tense.
  15. Projects don't fail in the end; they fail at conception.
  16. Visions are usually treatable.
  17. Overly ambitious projects can never fail if they have a beginning, middle and no end.
  18. In government we never punish error, only its disclosure.
  19. The most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest.
  20. A realist is one who's presciently disappointed in the future.

26 comments
rgiovi
rgiovi

Precisely...everything we do is essentially a project. Think about it, whether it's in business or day to day life. I did a project 20 years ago, the implementation of hardware and software and design is still being used. Does that mean it was a success? (actually I know it was, it works extremely well)..however....it may be time for the company using it to me again to move them out of the dark ages (ha ha)!

peterb75
peterb75

I can't tell you how many projects I was part of that got laughed out the door by under qualified managers and over paid bean counters. #1 rings so true with me, and probably many of you. Its either we needed too much money or we needed too much time. Forgive me if we are looking months/years in the future by doing things the right way.

solrak29
solrak29

It is unfortunate when some of this actually really rings true!

gsbigger
gsbigger

- SIMPLY the "PROFOUND" difference between... what the "SIMPLEtons" thought they desired... ("because...") and what the PRO(fessionals) FOUND that is actually viable... (via "root cause")

Polar Armadillo
Polar Armadillo

The reality is what is cynical, full of warnings to humans how our behaviors are so silly and out of control! Forgetting the ultimate purpose is a human inclination.

fparth
fparth

These are all old. I remember many of them from 20 years ago. There's nothing new here, but it's good for less experienced people to read them.

pawanhrishu
pawanhrishu

these tips boot up the programmer. i think these tips should be followed by all programmers. thanks.

saurinmehta_us
saurinmehta_us

All this is mere talk about Project Management... There is NO NEED to do a lot of micro monitoring or Project Monitoring in medium sized projects... But, there is a need to think above the conventional means of project management... I never track my projects.. and still they are delivered ON TIME EVERY TIME!!! The magic lies with the quality of people that are working on the project... We NEVER motivate my people... since we choose only those in the team who are not required to be motivated by material values... Let me assure you that we are a very small company and CANNOT afford any rewards and recognitions... inspite of that, our deliveries NEVER go beyond the deadlines given... no matter what size the project is... At the most, it takes one or two days over the planned deadline... There is a need to nurture a radical thinking in the team... which helps us deliver our projects on time.. I am open to discussions in regards to this ANY TIME..

Gabby22
Gabby22

Good comments, but some show more about the industry than the clients and users of what we do. As others have said, think more about why we think this way than the comments themselves. eg #3 "A user is somebody who rejects the system because it?s what he asked for." This really shows the communication gap (sometimes chasm) between the users and the developer. It's really saying "Users are idiots!", but I could equally say that developers who end up in this situations are the real idiots. The only real mistake the client made was choosing the wrong developers. We should *know* that users hardly ever know exactly what they want, and are more likely to tell us what they want than what they're trying to do. And until we, the client and users agree on what we're building, we're heading for terminal project disease.

ryan101
ryan101

Yeah! Project Management is a myth, a PM is actually a Professional Magician, you cannot succeed by focusing on the task alone, you need smoke, mirrors and rabbits... lots of them.

karenc
karenc

21 - The project plan encompasses our knowledge of the project, the things we know we don't know about the project will double the requirements .... and the things we don't know we don't know will double the requirements again So you need roughly four times the resources you initially estimated 22 - any simple project isn't 23 - if your project has been sold to a customer by a salesman who made cast iron guarantees on delivery and performance your only option is to resign

sonia.valerio
sonia.valerio

Not so cynical after all; I've seen many class-17 projects, many class-18 situations, and heard of some class-11 project managers "gently" removed from their responsibility. Mr. Collins' list is humourous but in the end there's often nothing to be happy about. Sonia

Julia.Hengstler
Julia.Hengstler

LOL--had to twitter this and send it to our institutional IT dept. THANKS!

Steve Romero
Steve Romero

If this clever post does indeed provide a chuckle or two (as opposed to tears), the next step should be to reflect on each item. What does each statement mean and to what degree does any organization relate? I especially like numbers 15 and 7. They cleverly capture two of the most important dimensions that lead to project success - Project and Portfolio Management (to ensure we are doing the right things) and Project Control and Execution (to ensure we do things right). Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist http://community.ca.com/blogs/theitgovernanceevangelist/

biancaluna
biancaluna

11 and 13, oh dear, story of my life. Replace him with her and you are there. Brilliant.

dogstar69
dogstar69

Chuckles. I particularly liked 1,5,15 and love number 11. I'm not sure this is entirely cynical!

santeewelding
santeewelding

"If you don't know where you're going, just talk about specifics." Has to be the one applicable to the greatest number of those TR posts that begin with so much ambition.

dharminderm
dharminderm

After years doing projects within companies, you can never really beat schmoozing the people who actually commissioned the project. Deliver what they want (not what the end user wants, after-all when will a sponsor ever use an system unless unless it affect MS outlook, their blackberry or powerpoint) and you've got a winning project (well a promotion and more projects for the future) Monica Vinader (www.joots.co.uk)

TownsendA
TownsendA

I just love it when senior managers tell me "Forget all this planning stuff just start and get on with it!" Project plans don't make project s work - people do - but they sure as hell help getting the job done.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

"our deliveries NEVER go beyond the deadlines given... no matter what size the project is... At the most, it takes one or two days over the planned deadline..." And our sofTware is delIVEred with no bugs and meets EVeRY customer expectation .. well exCept for a couple, and ALl this without the Use of computers .. we create oUR software using pEncIl and papeR. Les. P.S. I just lOve the ranDOm use of the Caps key.

pgainer
pgainer

Rules for Project Managers A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on. The conditions attached to a promise are forgotten, only the promise is remembered Activity is not achievement. If you don't know how to do a task, start it, then ten people who know less than you will tell you how to do it. Fuzzy project objectives are used to avoid the embarrassment of estimating the project costs A carelessly planned project takes three times longer to complete than expected; a carefully planned project takes only twice as long To estimate the time it takes to do a project, estimate the time you think it should take, multiply by two, then change the unit of measure to the next highest unit. Thus we allocate two months for a one day project. The person who says it will take the longest and cost the most probably is the only one with a clue how to do the job. To estimate a project, estimate how long it would take one person to do it then multiply that by the number of people on the project The first 90% of the project takes 90% of the time. The last 10% of the project takes the other 90%. So? After adding two weeks to the schedule for unexpected delays, add two more weeks for the unexpected, unexpected delays. The more time you spend in reporting on what you are doing, the less time you have to do anything. Stability is achieved when you spend all your time doing nothing but reporting on the nothing you are doing. When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done. Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule -------------------------------------------- Excuses for Not Planning Our customers really love us, so they don't care if our products are a little late and don't always work the first time. Organizing to manage projects isn't compatible with our culture and the last thing we need around this place is change. All of our projects are easy so there is no need to plan. We aren't smart enough to implement project management without stifling creativity and offending our technical geniuses. We might have to understand our customers' requirements, document a lot of stuff and that is such a bother. Our bosses won't provide the support needed for project management; they want us to get better results through magic.

dave
dave

Too true

daarka
daarka

We use this term frequently: Schlimmbesserung German word that means: making something worse through an attempt to make things better. As long as you think cynically, this can help to answer the question: "What is the problem we are actually solving?" As long as the answer is in the IT realm, then you have a chance of success.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

between hell and help, and you are almost there. To paraphrase no project plan survives contact with an implementation. No plan and some willing people is way better than a crap plan and anything.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

It is easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission. I.e. estimate what the stakeholders want to hear, not what they are going to get. Les.