Project Management Gone Wrong

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on November 16, 2008 in: Project Management

The following are true stories of project management gone terribly wrong. Only the details and the names have been changed to protect the guilty. These stories were collected from colleagues who work on projects in large and small organizations in varying industries.

Project Management gone wrong #1: ‘Sam’ was a web design freelancer who was hired by a multinational corporation to help them create a user-friendly web-based educational tool. Unfortunately, the details of the project changed frequently. Even the name of the project changed an unbelievable 6 times over the course of the project! Sam did his best to make each change as it reared its ugly head but he found that there were simply so many changes to be made that he quickly burned through the pre-determined budget trying to match existing content to the company’s inability to decide on anything; no money was spent on new content. The result? Sam delivered a project but it fell into disuse quickly. Sam didn’t have a good experience working with the company and the company was disappointed with the results so they never hired Sam again.

Project Management gone wrong #2: ‘Maria’ worked in an IT department at a large organization. She was given a budget and assigned to complete a software conversion that would see some of the company’s data converted into a different format. As time went on, however, the budget was adjusted by the CFO who felt that she didn’t need as much money as she did. Later, a delay in the project caused by previously unforeseen conversion issues meant that she reached the end of her budget without completing the project. The CFO told her that no further funding was available. Maria moved on to other projects and the conversion that she hoped would be her key to a promotion was shelved indefinitely.

Project Management gone wrong #3: ‘Erika’ was a freelance writer who was contracted by an organization to create new hire manuals. The project started, then faltered, as the Recruiting and Training manager decided to revamp the learning path of new hires. The project re-started, then faltered again as several managers in the client organization disagreed on the expected outcomes of the manuals. The project re-started, then faltered yet again, as the Director of Human Resources explored the possibility of revising the project to include other manuals as well. With every re-start, the budget burned up because Erika needed to get up to speed on the changes.

These 3 stories are true. They all took place within the past 6 months. They all happened to people I know.

If you look closely at the stories, you’ll note that each one experienced some problem related to the three elements of project management: scope, budget, and time. While each one had a primary issue (Sam’s was scope, Maria’s was budget, and Erika’s was time), every element is interrelated and one impacts the others.

What is needed here is strong project management. After all, each of these are indeed projects. But organizations simply pass the entire project to one person – an internal employee or an outsource professional – who is hired to do one thing (complete the work) but is actually expected to do two things (manage the project and complete the work).

Simply put, a project manager is needed as well. Project management requires a unique set of skills and talents and training that Sam and Maria and Erika (and others) may lack. These professionals were skilled in their area of expertise but were not as interested in doing the work of project management.

Project management requires skills in resource management, negotiation, customer service, creative problem solving, and there’s even some political savvy needed.

Ironically, project management seems like an additional layer in the hierarchy of a project but it is an essential layer that results in greater benefit than if the project management role was folded into the role of the person performing the work. A project manager?

  • Can keep all parties on track and keep the flow of information moving.
  • Acts as a conduit of communication to make sure all parties are talking about the same things.
  • Saves time and money by keeping projects moving and ensuring that budgets are spent wisely.

A project manager seems like an additional layer in the project but the result is the same as the equation 1+1=3. The very presence of a project manager adds value to a project by ensuring that the scope, budget, and time all work in unison so the project finishes successfully.

A project that finishes successfully starts with a project manager. If you have a project – whether large or small – you can ensure its accurate and timely completion with someone shepherding it through the creation process. If you have a new initiative at work, or if your business has evolved and requires a solution, or if you’ve been tasked with creating internal or customer-facing content, don’t start with the creation of the work. Don’t ‘roll up your sleeves’ and dive in. Don’t go looking for a freelancer. Start with a project manager. And that will be an investment into the successful completion of your project!

When you succeed, I succeed,

Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM

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