Who to Blame for Project Failure? Look Up - Not Down, Not Left, Not Right.
to Blame for Project Failure?
Author - Olin
- September 20, 2002
Look Up - Not Down, Not Left, Not Right.
failure is not a nice topic. None of us want to be involved in a failure.
But when a failure occurs, we feel compelled to assign blame. But who
to blame and how to avoid the same problems in the future?
most enterprises, even admitting they have a failure is difficult. But
what is a failure? Failure is not that easy to define. Is it when we fail
to meet the original project business objectives? Is it when the project
is late or over budget? Is it when the software works but does not produce
the benefits sought? The answer to all these questions is, maybe. Failure
can be many things and the definition is what the people involved think
it should be. As a matter of fact, most projects have their objectives
or measurement of success redefined before they are declared failures
so they can be called successes.
Assigning blame is human; we need to do it to make ourselves feel better.
Typically, the vendor or service provider is the easiest to blame V they
cannot effectively protect themselves and blaming the outsiders makes
for a practical path. Blaming the outsiders has few political repercussions
and it allows the company to avoid facing some potentially ugly realities.
outside resource, be it vendor or services provider, is key to success,
but they cannot make the project a success. The outsiders cannot address
internal issues. They cannot assign the right people, make certain the
internal project team does their job, have the time they need and resolve
many other issues critical for success. Are the outsiders sometimes deserving
of the blame V yes, but it is actually quite rare.
on our potential blame list comes the in-house team. These people are
a definable target, typically seen as working outside the normal hierarchy.
The internal team is critical to success, but they cannot do it alone.
The internal team, like the external players lack the power to get things
done, they cannot make the project a success.
is responsible for the selection of the outsiders? Who is responsible
for the performance of the internal team? The reality is that the person
who is most responsible is the person at the top V for most failures,
we need to look up within the organization. By top, we mean the person
who is responsible for all the departments and people impacted by the
the project is confined to one plant, it may be the plant manager. If
it impacts all plants, it may be the VP of Manufacturing. If it impacts
the entire enterprise, it is the CEO. Enthusiasm and commitment for a
project does not "trickle up" through an organization, it "tickles down".
Only the person at the top can set the tone, have enough power to enforce
decisions, allocate the resources, resolve conflicts, and give direction
to others, whether explicit or implicit. Only the person at the top can
create enthusiasm and commitment.
It is not enough for the senior person to "sign the check". They must
provide leadership from start to end. The involvement of the senior person
is a daily task throughout the project. The amount of time the senior
person spends on the project does not have to be high, it needs to fit
into many other things that he or she is doing. The senior person needs
to reinforce the motivation for the project in their daily actions. They
need to let the company know that the project is important and that the
business will benefit from the project. Finally, the senior person must
let others know that he or she is following the project closely and is
aware of problems and accomplishments.
senior person is responsible for selecting the project leader, a most
important role. The project leader must be a full time job for all but
the smallest projects. The best person for the job, by definition, cannot
be spared from their current role. The senior person must make this person
available and make certain that another person is put in the project leader's
former position so the project leader can remain full time on the project.
The project leader will need the senior person's help in freeing up the
right people to be on the project team. Since the best team is cross-functional,
only the senior person can work across the organization to recruit the
right project team and insure that they have the time available.
support the project, the senior person needs to know why the project is
important and the status of the project. This means working through the
benefits, understanding what has to be done to get those benefits and
reviewing various status reports. Knowing this information is not the
point, communicating and reinforcing it to any and all people is the job
of the senior person.
create change and change creates conflicts. The senior person must be
ready to resolve conflicts that cannot be settled at lower levels. It
also means providing access to the project manager and other key members
of the team on an as needed basis.
excellent example of the involvement of a senior person comes from a Fortune
500 food company. The project involved implementation of a plant level
system in the companys ten US plants. The senior person was the VP of
Manufacturing was named Ben. He had ten direct reports, the ten plant
managers. How did Ben support the project?
- Ben saw
the project as related to market share, not systems, not plant management.
He continually communicated the importance of market share and how the
project would help market share. He also related market share to individual
issues like pay, bonuses, plant expansions and closing, etc. Ben personalized
the project for the employees.
- For each
plant, Ben came to the plant and chaired the kick-off meeting. At this
meeting, he did the presentation about market share.
- Ben scanned
the bi-weekly status reports to stay informed about the accomplishments
and challenges faced by the project team and the organization.
- Ben held
weekly calls with each plant manager. The plant managers soon learned
that one of his questions would be about the project. The question may
be as general as "Hows the project going?" or very specific from the
biweekly status reports. To quote Ben, "If they know I care, they care."
- At a
wide variety of meetings and in written communication, Ben almost daily
reinforced the objectives and discussed the status of the project. Everyone
who came in contact with Ben knew that Ben was on top of the project.
- The project
had a monthly newsletter. For each issue, Bens name was prominent
with the lead article attributed to Ben (yes, someone else wrote it,
but Ben approved it).
the project was near completion in one plant, I happened to visit the
plant early one morning. While sitting in the cafeteria, I struck up a
conversation with a clerk who was also having coffee. When she learned
whom I was (I was from the vendor) the clerk wanted to talk about the
project. When I asked her opinion of the project, she told me, "This is
a very important project. We cannot afford to fail. Market share is what
drives our company and this project is all about market share." When I
heard this, I decided that Ben got an A+ in leadership.
do fail. They fail from many different reasons. But the person at the
top of the organization can stop or fix most of these problems before
they derail the project. That person is the only one with the power to
do so. If you are that person, think about and use your power through
out a project. If you are not that person, maybe you should forward this
article to them.
Thompson, a principal of Process ERP Partners and co-founder of the Chem
CIO Forum (www.chemcioforum.com) has over 25 years experience as an executive
in the software industry with the last 17 in process industry related
ERP, SCP, and e-business related segments. Olin has been called "the Father
of Process ERP." He is a frequent author and an award-winning speaker
on topics of gaining value from ERP, SCP, e-commerce and the impact of
technology on industry.
can be reached at Olin@ProcessERP.com.