Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I don't acknowledge it....therefore it doesn't exist!

Is this a reality?  I overheard a conversation last night at dinner where a guy was explaining to his friends that he has not gotten a cold in the last 15 years.  He stated that his grandmother told him that there is no such thing as a common cold.  He believed her and ever since he has never gotten a cold.  One of his friends asked, “Do you ever not feel good?”  He said, “Sometimes my nose will be stuffy or I get a sore throat or cough.  I will feel run down and will stay in bed a couple of days……but it’s not a cold!  They don’t exist!”  Call me old fashioned, but that sounds like a cold to me.
It reminded me of my top 5 favorite quotes from a sponsor.  We were running a project and the sponsor had announced to the entire customer base the completion date of the project before the project was even opened in the organization.  Her statement committed us to a 10 month project to be delivered in 4 months.  I approached the sponsor and told her that we would have to do some serious risk management on the project.  Her response is still a classic: “Rick, this project has no risk because it must be done on time!”  If we don’t acknowledge it, it must not exist.
This same denial seems to be true for sponsors when they set a project date or budget.  They often will tell a project manager, “just figure it out,” or, “just make it happen.”  As if the project manager can just wave their magic wand and a new month will be created or a bag of cash will appear.  Projects have been run this way since the beginning of time.  Why is it so misunderstood?  I like to compare projects to weight loss.  Look, I would love to take a pill at night, never have to work out, eat whatever I want, and lose weight.  The reality is that eating right and exercise is what it takes.  The sales numbers for weight loss fads, products, pills, exercise machines, etc. is staggering!  Every day I hear an ad for a new product that promised dramatic weight loss without changing and of the bad habits that lead to the weight gain in the first place.  It is this same mentality that continues to plague projects.  This mentality that if we put it out there it will happen and if we don’t acknowledge the bad stuff, it doesn’t exist is the basis of many of the organizations in business today.  Then everybody is surprised when something doesn’t go as planned.  This goes all the way back to the way the project was selected and how most likely the budget was trimmed via a spreadsheet to get it to meet an arbitrary number that feels right to the executives.  Sure we can cut 20% of this project, there was probably padding in it anyway!
Risk does exist.  Project failure is a very real and repeatable process.  Yet we continue to not acknowledge it.  For example, a project manager will be told that they do not have time to plan, the project must start now.  The project fails.  The project team does a lessons learned session and blames the lack of planning as the reason why.  Then the team will agree that more planning will be necessary.  Then the next project comes along and the same project manager is told that there is no time to plan, it must start right away!  One of the greatest things we can do as project managers is simply acknowledging that these things do exist.  Documentation and metrics capture that show these patterns is paramount.  We must acknowledge these failures.  It is the first step in resolution.
Go forth and document!

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