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Avoiding Project Failure: It's The Basics, Man!

Posted on November 24, 2014 by Jaren Grenell

Did you know there is a Catalogue of Catastrophe (CoC)? I did not know that before now but found it during my research and it is fascinating. It is a website devoted to tracking large troubled projects around the world.

(Check it out – http://calleam.com/WTPF/?page_id=3 It is sponsored by Calleam Consulting, a Project Management training and consulting organization which has done a marvelous job of documenting why projects fail with actual case studies.

Projects fail for many reasons. Sometimes there is a single overall factor and sometimes, perhaps more often than not, there are a combination of whys and wherefores that cause a project to fail. Two illustrative well-known spectacular bombshells include:

  • Denver International Airport (DIA) – Project: Baggage Handling System – billed as the most advanced baggage handling system in the world. Problems building the system resulted in the DIA sitting idle for 16 months and $560M in added costs! Primary cause – failure to fully understand the complexity of the system requirements to fully automate the process. (Click the link for a full case study http://calleam.com/WTPF/wp-content/uploads/articles/DIABaggage.pdf).
  • Department for Transport – UK – Project: Shared Services – An initiative to improve efficiency to the tune of $114M in annual savings by sharing technology infrastructure.  Unfortunately, an audit of the troubled project revealed that it will actually cost $160M more per year than it saves.  As Maxwell Smart would say, “Missed it by that much!”  Reasons given – incompetent project management resulting in underestimating costs, poor requirements definition, inadequate testing, lack of vendor management etc.

After reviewing several more case studies from the CoC, the phase that occurred to me was, “failure is easy…”.  Simply fail to execute the basics of project management, change management, leadership, governance, etc… In my previous blog we noted that the formula for successfully delivering value via technology was simple, but it’s execution that is the tough part.  The Catalogue of Catastrophe proves the point in spades.

In this case, martial arts offers yet another useful metaphor. Mastering the basics is the key to generating the maximum physical power one can produce. The math for this is simple KE = MxV2/2 or, Kinetic Energy KE = Mass (yours) xVelocity (your speed) squared all divided by two. However, executing the physics (e.g., a punch or a kick) is most challenging.

When done properly, a person can generate tremendous power. An experienced black belt is capable of breaking concrete bricks bare handed. However, near flawless execution of technique is required, and that is where the difficulty comes.  What does it take to become a black belt? Mastering the basics. This requires discipline, discipline, and more discipline to put in the hours of practice and dedication required.

This brings us back to last week’s blog. The simple formula for leveraging technology to gain a competitive edge is (Discipline + Technology + Insight + Great Leadership = Competitive Edge).   In the next blog, we’ll discuss the role of discipline in our world of applying technology to opportunities and problems. In the meantime, the martial arts simile may inspire a change to (Discipline x Technology x Insight x Great Leadership2 = Competitive Edge).

– by Mark Baumbach // Senior Management Consultant @ Beyond Impact LLC –

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