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Project Management Gets Lean

IT can't afford to do projects the old way. Lean project management gives a better picture of success or failure.

Fear Of Failure

A major roadblock to project management learning is the reluctance to look at previous failed projects, says Donald Jessop, a team lead for the Alberta educational system. "The idea that a project 'failed' or was not successful is tantamount to a slap in the face" to some project managers, Jessop says.

Bottom line: Cultures that discourage talking about failure will still be cultures that discourage talking about failure, lean or no lean. But cultures that encourage risk taking understand that not all efforts are successful, and they emphasize that mistakes are the only way to learn.

Lean challenges us to think hard about all the metrics we've traditionally used.

On time? What does that really mean? Usually there are three basic constraints to a project: scope, schedule, and budget.

While 53% of the 508 business technology professionals who responded to our 2012 Enterprise Project Management survey say their projects are "on time" all or most of the time, we now wonder whether the better question might have been, "Do your projects typically meet all constraints of scope, schedule, and budget?"

But again, this may be more of a vanity metric than anything else. In reality, IT projects that need shooting must be shot without mercy or remorse.

Likewise, give more time to projects that, after due deliberation with business stakeholders, are determined to be worthy of more time. And projects that would deliver more value through more investment should get it.

We need to be measuring the doughnut, not the hole.

While you might think that our survey respondents overstate their customers' satisfaction, consider that 70% of their customers are said to be satisfied or extremely satisfied with project quality, while only 48% are said to be satisfied or extremely satisfied with timeliness and only 46% are said to be satisfied or extremely satisfied with project costs. Those are failing grades by most standards.

The Big Change

When projects don't work out, there's plenty of blame to go around. Our survey respondents cited everything from a lack of business engagement to a failure of executive IT leadership. A lack of support, training, documented requirements, and sponsor involvement all made it into the 7% of "other" responses that we received on why an IT project might not have delivered expected results.

Sometimes, the PMO and its project managers are considered the problem.

Thomas Stanley, VP of infrastructure operations at LexisNexis, questions the value of formalized programs and formally trained project managers. "Things get done in spite of the certified project managers," Stanley says.

Wow. But he's far from alone.

Again, our data suggests that satisfaction with the project management process is pretty low. Just 30% of respondents say IT projects almost always deliver value to the business. If you had an employee who didn't deliver value most of the time, you'd put him or her on probation.

While most project management offices (PMOs) understand what they're doing, the same isn't always true for the business folks who interact with them. Project managers can get so wrapped up in Gantt charts, time sheets, and forecasting that they don't always take the time to explain what they're doing. Folks can feel like projects are happening to them instead of feeling like they're participating in a worthy cause.

Why did your company implement a project management office?

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