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A Monster’s guide toProject Horrors…

十月 30, 2009 留下评论 Go to comments
Happy Halloween..


we move into the season where the ghouls and goblins get more
active–and the theoretical link to the afterworld is at its thinnest
and most permeable–we start to wonder exactly what sort of monsters
are lurking out there. What cosmic nastiness flits through the shadows,
ready to descend on the unwary and unprepared? And how many of us might
just be victims of those horrors before we finish out the month? A
worthy question to ask, at least as far as our projects go.

horror movies are deeply, frighteningly normal…right up until the
exact time when they’re not. To a certain extent, this is exactly the
problem with projects. They’re doing just fine right up until the point
when they stop being anything close to fine, when you can no longer
even see fine from here–or remember what it used to look like.
what projects come to the attention of the project monsters? Where will
the most vulnerable and susceptible project managers (most likely to be
lying awake at night in terror)? If you were a project poltergeist or a
goblin of particular ghoulish extraction, how would you know which
projects to terrorize and which to let be? Because Forrest Gump was
wrong: Life isn’t like a box of chocolates. There is no little guide to
life that says, “Ooh, those are the ones with the caramel centers in
them! Eat those!!!” We have to learn what’s most likely to be tasty all
on our own. Until now…
a holiday service to monsters, we have established this guide as a
useful and handy means of identifying the most ripe, succulent and
susceptible projects for tormenting. The season is short and time runs
quickly, so the Type-A trolls in our midst will no doubt find these
instructions helpful in extracting the maximum terror with the minimum
effort. Project managers also may find these guidelines helpful in
phantom-proofing their projects (but that’s more of a little side
benefit, really).
the discriminating specter on the move, some of the most reliable signs
of a promising project in peril are the familiar and comforting cries
of chaos and confusion that inevitably emerge in the face of a woeful
lack of project requirements. Particularly helpful indicators are
project teams that leap from need to need (and requirement to
requirement) without any clear sense of what is important to their
stakeholders. Also quite enjoyable to toy with are those who don’t seem
to have a clear sense of who their stakeholders actually are.
monsters of a particularly malevolent bent can get hours of fun and
enjoyment by planting just a few well-placed questions, like “I wonder
what this group would think?” or “I hear that that other department is
really unhappy with your project and isn’t supporting it anymore.” You
will find that their cries of shock and confusion are more than worth
the price of admission. We also strongly recommend avoiding those
projects that maintain regular and positive communication with their
look for project teams that don’t seem to have a clear understanding of
what they are building or how they are going to get there. Helpful
guides include schedules that get increasingly vague the closer they
get to the completion date–or that don’t have a clearly defined
statement of what it is they are producing or how they will know that
they are successful in the end. A particularly enjoyable
treat–although sadly getting rarer and more elusive–are those teams
who don’t actually recognize that they’re in a project in the first
place and therefore aren’t aware of how it will end. The more sadistic
spirits amongst us may prolong their torment with promises of an
ongoing expectation of ownership of the project results.
effective strategies for stirring the pot include selective
reinterpretation of deliverables and expanding scope through detailed
elaboration of what has already been defined. Try prefacing requests
with, “When I said that’s what I wanted, what I really meant was…”
The more detailed and baroque the subsequent redefinition–and the more
perversely contrary to the initial intent of what had been asked
for–the more satisfying you will find the results.
mathematically minded monster may want to keep its eye peeled for
projects with ineffective budget estimates. A helpful indicator are
those whose status reports are predominantly colored red. But be alert!
Project managers are getting wily and will often go to great lengths to
keep a status report showing green even in the face of certain doom. A
particularly helpful technique here can be comparing previous periods
to see where unannounced changes have been made. Other techniques are
looking for estimates that are presented in large round numbers, or a
project team that has simply provided the estimate their sponsor wanted
to hear. The project managers whose budgets are built to two decimal
points can be scrumptious–although they can also be awfully fussy and
finicky (it’s a bit like eating quail–good flavors, but too many bones
to pick through and ultimately not worth the effort, save for special
there are easy pickings in the above, the truly discerning dryad will
not want to miss exploring the upper reaches of the project food chain,
where succulent morsels can often be found. Absentee sponsors are often
ripe for terror and torment—they combine uncertainty about the project
with other distractions that prevent them from focusing intently on
what is happening. Look for sponsors who don’t read the status reports,
who let the project manager chair the steering committee meeting rather
than driving it themselves and ensuring they get the answers that they
need–or that are satisfied with high-level responses to critical
these sponsors have long been identified with a seeming lack of
attention in meetings highlighted by excessive use of their Blackberry,
this quality is now sufficiently prevalent in executive quarters that
it can’t be effectively relied upon in isolation. The more
discriminating spirits amongst us know that the tastiest of sponsors
are those that mask their inattention with perceived confidence and
authority. The patient phantom that looks for a string of illogical and
inconsistent decisions–all voiced with emphatic certainty and
confidence–will ultimately be rewarded here.
the tormenting and taunting of sponsors is often its own reward, the
truly spiteful sprite will not want to leave the steering committee
unmolested. As with stakeholders in general, the tools we work with
here are primarily divisiveness and uncertainty. What is mainly
rewarding is the level of decision-making authority that the steering
committee brings–and thus the more distressing levels of anguish that
can be inflicted when they are properly persecuted. Look for steering
committees that avoid making decisions in an effort to “go along” with
the group, as well as those that consistently agree with or take orders
from the sponsor without actually representing their own interests.
Also useful for our purposes are those steering committee members that
are participating just so that the committee will be “inclusive”–and
that have no real interest in the actual purpose or intent of the
project. Practical strategies for plaguing and pestering include
feeding different opinions on status and project health to the direct
reports of different steering committee members.
there are many more opportunities for the enterprising ectoplasm to
inflict indecision, beleaguerment and bother, it is important to
recognize that time is short. The Halloween season affords us a narrow
window of opportunity and we must use it for maximum mischievousness.
As project managers get better about organizing and managing their
work, effectively attaining appropriate levels of anguish and agony
will be increasingly awkward and we will need to be more innovative.
not much has changed in recent years. Despite warnings to the contrary,
project managers seem to continue to be a relative unwary and unheeding
lot. A pleasing period of pestilence to you all! Happy hunting!
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