We motivate businesses to be human

Archive for Project failure

Volkswagen’s greed and myopia is just the tip of the iceberg

Volkswagen has shown how greedy and myopic traditional management in corporations is: short-term projects (shareholder interests, EBIT) are more important (or, shall we say the only thing that really matters to them) than delighting customers and our environment.
Volkswagen management claims that they will resolve the issues and regain our confidence. Really?! I seriously doubt it, for how credible is it when they claim that they change their mindset overnight?! Volkswagen has annihilated the trust of its customers and the public. Not too surprising, top management and whoever ordered the betrayal may just be viewed as a bunch of liars and possibly criminals and should be treated as such.

What could Volkswagen do?

  1. First of all, acknowledge that it cannot “fix” an internal, systemic and structural problem overnight.
  2. Second, listen to your customers and the public and our needs and those of the next generation (talking about environment concerns).
  3. Third, work on a credible and sustainable strategy how to regain our trust, acknowledging that this will take years if not decades.

Volkswagen’s Outlook?

One thing is for sure, the future of Volkswagen is uncertain. Shame on those managers who caused this. Instead of insisting on their bonuses, they should waive them and give to a fund to save work places who those who don’t get fat bonuses.
Alas, there is a good thing about Volkswagen and actually this is something we should be grateful for: We have been made aware that as consumers we have choices. Nobody forces us to buy Volkswagen. And, a crisis for Volkswagen is a chance for innovation. It is up to Volkswagen, whether or not it wants to be part of this future. There is a chance, yes, and it starts with listening and learning. Good luck!

Read Steve Denning’s analysis of Volkswagen’s crisis here.

Posted in: Creative Economy, Project failure, Sustainability

Leave a Comment (0) →

Let Happiness Turn Your Project Around

Ever wondered what could turn around your struggling project, or shape a project that it tells a story and convinces others just be hearing about the project?  Well, there could be a simple remedy.  And that is to link happiness to your project.  – Ok, let’s start slow.

This week I conducted a seminar on project leadership.  In one of the central exercises smaller groups worked on fictitious projects.  Seminar attendants could pick whatever topic, issue or question they cared about.  One group chose to ponder how to improve time management for students obtaining a graduate degree while having to work full-time and nourishing a family.  Another group analyzed ways and means to improve a business partnership with suppliers.  And yet another decided to talk about the need of drones for the German military.  At the end of each exercise session teams presented their results.  They shared their views what motivated them to work on their particular project, what they envisioned and what specific goals they were pursuing.  Not too surprisingly the project with the military drone got rather passive looks and no real feedback when they presented their project.  This changed when I asked the teams to address a simple question with respect to their project.  “How does your project contribute to happiness?”  That’s it; just this simple question.

HappinessI was curious what the teams would come up with.  Especially the drone project.  After all, linking a military weapon, defensive as it may be intentioned, with happiness?!  That would be a tough sell.  Well, things did not quite work out as assumed.  When it was their turn everybody expected them to talk about the various functionalities of a military drone, its specifications and how to use it in combat.  But instead the group talked about peace enforcement, conflict prevention and support for human rights.  And they talked about it in an appealing way that reached people and caused their emotional reaction.  All of a sudden, nobody was thinking of the weapon any more but how to help achieve world peace.  What happened?  Addressing the question “How does your project contribute to happiness?” project members checked for their inner motivation – not warefare but peace and stability – and they shared it openly and honestly.  This touched people, they could relate to the team’s motivation, even identify with it.  Instead of being doubtful and deprecating, not only did they appreciated the project presentation but even asked how they could help the team.

A project which moments earlier was dull, cold and tiring became lively, meaningful and attractive.  A simple question “How does your project contribute to happiness?” triggered the change of the nature of the project, its momentum and the attitude of team members and observers.  So, next time you face a troubling project, ask the team this question, “how does your project contribute to happiness?, and see what happens.


Posted in: Happiness, Leadership, Project failure, Project Management

Leave a Comment (0) →

How much do you want to invest in your WOW project?

http://fc03.deviantart.net/fs39/i/2008/323/7/1/High_Hopes_II_by_OrchidFeehan.jpgIt was a long wait.  Weeks, no, months.  Then, finally she won the long sought opportunity to work on a mega project.  A project that not only was long in duration but also involved lots of people and stakeholders.  What a challenge!  And what a feat!  So she thought.

She had worked on quite a few projects of virtually all sizes.  The big ones stood out.  For a number of reasons: the duration, the complexity, the team size, the fun and the rewards.  No wonder she was excited when she won the new deal.

This was several weeks ago.  Today, the world looked different.  Motivation  dropped significantly; the energy barrels were emptied, stress levels were constantly high. But why?! What happened? And why was this project different from the previous big projects?

The missing WOW factor

While there can be lots of possible answers, the main reason is that this new project lacked the WOW factor. Yes, it was a big project but without the wow.  “Wow Projects’?  Those are projects Tom Peters described as projects that add value, projects that matter, projects that make a difference, projects that leave a legacy.  And those are projects that bring happiness into our daily work life.  Both on the individual and team level.

Ingredients for a Wow project

A wow project is not created merely by its size or its complexity.  Instead, there a few ingredients for a project to evolve into a wow project.  Let’s have a look at these ingredients:

  1. There is a common MVP, i.e., motivation, vision and project objectives.  Team members and stakeholders alike have a common understanding of the MVP of the project and they support it.
  2. Collaboration is being nurtured.  For this to happen there are clear roles and accountabilities as well as collaboration rules that nourish true team work.
  3. Performance is being promoted.  This means that the environment and the people empower people to perform and show their best.  Performance and interim results are celebrated.
  4. As much as performance is promoted and appreciated, people know that mistakes and setbacks are inevitable.  Indeed, making mistakes are welcome and encouraged as they can provide outstanding learning experiences.  Not for learning by itself but toward a common goal, which brings us to the fifth factor, i.e.,
  5. ensuring results.  However beautiful the strategy may be, occasionally you have to look at results.  And they are delivered and celebrated on an ongoing basis and not just at the end of a project phase.

Necessary investments for a wow project

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-0e-_U3Jy2oY/TWDW5sWjFoI/AAAAAAAAACE/pF5iJKIm4AU/s828/Stop%2BPause.pngKnowing the ingredients for a wow project is one thing.  But a wow project still does not fall from heaven.  You have to help build it.  You have to invest into this building exercise.  And there are no guarantees.

You usually have at least two choices when you start or enter a project:

a) run, react and get busy.  Do what’s necessary and what’s being told. Try to meet deadlines and keep you head down.  Believe in the expertise of the others and hope for the best.

b) pause, reflect why you started the project in the first place, why you want to work on it. In other words, make sure that you and your team understand and live the factors for the evolution of a wow project.  This takes time and effort.  It cannot be done in between meetings, divided into smaller chunks spreaded over a period of weeks.

http://b.vimeocdn.com/ts/391/455/391455020_640.jpgIs it hard? It can be. But it always starts with a first step

Coming back to the individual described in the first paragraph of this post.  She realized that this project lacked the ingredients for a wow project.  And this was the beginning to a better project.  She was unhappy but didn’t want to accept it.  Hence, she stood up, gathered like minded team mates around her, talked about her frustration, shared her motivation and vision. Together they changed the situation.  At first, it was only their little sub teams.  From there it spreaded for people noticed that not only their performance and results improved significanlty, team members were also happy, thrilled, excited and highly motivated – without spending endless hours in unproductive meetings, trying to beat deadlines.  They were ahead of the game. And they still are.

What are you waiting for?!  Start building your own wow moment. Today


Posted in: Centeredness, Happiness, Project failure, Project success

Leave a Comment (0) →

Book Review: A Guide to Project Recovery

Projects become more prevalent.  Not surprisingly the art of project management becomes more popular.  Unfortunately this does not imply that the more projects there are the more successful they are.  As a matter of fact a significant percentage of projects fail or do not yield the desired results.  While in recent years the number of successful projects are on the rise, it is scary how slow this process has been.  Todd Williams’ book  “Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing, and Recovering from Project Failure (2011) is a welcome and much needed aid to help rescue and re-align struggling and failing projects.  It is a very valuable resource for anyone working in a project management.  Regardless whether or not the own project is on its way to glory or doom.

Williams embraces a holistic approach to project management.  He explains the need and value of existing project management tools that help rescue the project management.  And he goes beyond the mere listing of tools.  In the Introduction of the book he stresses four key factors that are critical in rescuing a problematic project: (1) The answers to a problem in or with a project are in the team. (2) A strong team can surmount most problems. (3) Stay involved with the team. (4) Objective data is your friend, providing the key way out of any situation.  By emphasizing the value of the team Williams goes beyond a mechanical “Abhandlung” of a recipe book for project rescues.  He explains in simple, plain and thus easy to understand language why most answers to problems in and with a project are rooted in the team.  A project is not made up of resources but human beings interacting in a social environment, building communities and network.  As complex and complicated this network is, it contains an endless number of potential traps and opportunities at the same time.

Having set up the foundation of his approach to rescuing projects Williams outlines 5 steps to recover struggling projects:

The first step is to realize that a problem exists.  As simple as this sounds this may actually be the most difficult step of all.  The key is that the awareness of a problem is not limited to the operational level of a project but that management has to acknowledge this fact and expresses an interest in resolving the issue, helping the team to become successful.

The second step to project recovery is an audit of the project.  The term “audit” has a negative connotation to many project practitioners.  This must not be the case if all audits would follow the guidelines Williams describes in his book.  He starts analyzing the human role in a project, followed by reviewing the scope on a red project, determining timeline constraints and examining technology’s effect on the project.

The insights gained from the audit analyzed in the third step.  They are the ingredients for planning the actual project recovery.  To me this part of the book is the most valuable one.  Not because the author develops a clean and clear outline effective approaches to analyzing audit data but because he explains how they fit in with the core statement of the book, that a strong team is one of the critical success factors for project recovery.  Doing so he stresses that project recovery is not a mechanical task, following a checklist and applying sane project management techniques.  Instead he explains that it takes leadership and oversight, a deep understanding of the heart and soul of a project.  Acknowledging the fact that more and more projects do not follow the traditional, sequential waterfall approach, Todd Williams gives an overview of other project management frameworks and methodologies, namely Agile and Critical Chain.  He then compares them with respect change management needs, customer relationship, estimations, project constraints, subcontractor relations, and team structure.

The fourth step to project recovery is to propose workable resolutions.  This is when the recovery manager presents the insights from the audit analysis and concluding mitigations and negotiates the next concrete steps with the project sponsor and stakeholders.  Williams stresses the importance of staying focused on project recovery and not getting sidetracked by distractions such as maintenance and other conflicting projects.

Last but not least, the fifth step involves the actual execution of the recovery plan.

As hard, tedious, frustrating and rewarding project recoveries can be one of the key questions is what project managers can learn from past mistakes and successful recoveries.  This is covered in the final part of the book entitled “Doing it Right the First Time: Avoiding Problems that Lead to Red Projects”.  It shows that project failure often starts at the very beginning of the project.  It can be prevented by properly defining a project’s initiations, assembling the right team, properly dealing with risk and implementing effective change management.

While the book may be most interesting to those who are facing or have faced problem projects I hope that novice project managers read this book, too.  It will help them avoid common mistakes and set up a good and solid structure for project success.  And in case troubles arise this book will help them guide projects to safer havens.

Posted in: Book Recommendations, Miscellaneous, Project failure, Project Management

Leave a Comment (2) →

Project Management Zen: Project Success Requires Project Failure

If project success is the opposite of project failure, what does failure mean?  How do you define it?  What does it encompass and how do you feel about it? – These are not fake questions.  They are serious and they are meant to be answered.  For, if success is the driving force in our projects, we should be able to describe what the opposite of success is about.   Is it so that the fear of failure moves us to action?  Can we start a project and act without being discontent with a situation?

I have come to the understanding that without an imbalance in a present situation it is very, very difficult to proceed and virtually impossible to motivate others to follow you.  There needs to be a creative tension between the status quo and the desired outcome.  And, you and those who follow you or vice versa need to understand the purpose of the journey, need to be able to identify themselves with the cause.  I want to go a step further and state that it is not sufficient if this identification is purely on the rational level.  Instead, you need to be able to relate to it on an emotional and sometimes even deeper level, let’s call it a “spiritual” level.

In order to develop this creative tension you need to understand the cause(s) of the present situation and the desired state.  Why are you dissatisfied with the status quo?  Who is affected by it and how?  What happens if nothing changes? Then juxtapose those questions with the following:  what is the ideal, desired state you want to be in?  Why?  Who benefits from it and how?
Once you have come up with responses which satisfy you and those around you, proceed to the next question: what does it take to get to the desired state?

Posted in: Centeredness, Project failure, Project Management

Leave a Comment (2) →

Ignore your environment – or how to set up your project for failure

We all know that we live in an interdependent world.  This is common sense.  And yet again the proverb that common sense is not common practice holds true.  Recently I observed a project which was headed by an expert in his field.  He knew the business inside out, nurtured a strong network in the industry.  It was no big surprise that he was asked to lead the technical division of a new service offering of the company.  Alas, as much as he knew about the new product and services, he lacked a common project management understanding.  He was so convinced of his own expertise that he willingly ignored the project environment.  He defined his agenda and followed it.  He didn’t bother asking other people for their opinion.  This time he had the chance to prove the world that not only did he understand the business part of the service he also want to show that he knew the technical aspects and how to set up a highly efficient and yet effective technical infrastructure in record time.

There was nothing wrong with this motivation.  As a matter of fact following a vision is a noble thing.  IFF it is shared by others.  Even more important, IFF the vision is built by those who are involved.  Unfortunately this was not the case. The project manager did not share his vision openly, he withheld information from others, dictated his immediate “team” members what to do and micromanaged every step.

The project progressed according to plan.  At least this what his belief and perception were.  Until the first delivery to a sub-team which had to specify and implement “his” solution.  The feedback of this sub-team gave about the concepts submitted to them was devestating.  Little if anything was deemed valuable for implementation.  It was a mess.  It became apparent that the scope was far from being defined, even less approved and shared by all stakeholders.  The project came to a point where it was up to management to decide whether to go ahead nevertheless and fail or to step back for a second and think how to clean up the mess.

The good news was that the latter was the case.  The sub-team invited the project team to walk through every scope item of the project phase, estimated the effort and planned accordingly.  Project work could start anew. Only this time it was based on a common agreed upon scope and project plan.  The first release of the new service was delivered on time.  Alas, it was far from the originally thought scope of the project manager.

There were quite a few things the project manager did wrong.  As mentioned at the outset of this post, interdependence is not a mere buzz word.  It is reality.  You are foolish if you ignore it.  In the case descriped the project manager and the whole project would have faired much better if the project manager would have spent his energy on building a common vision, sharing information and winning the necessary support for his ideas.  Instead, he saved his energy for his own agenda, got lost in political power struggles he set up and in the process set up the project for failure.

Interdependence is all around us.  Open your eyes, identify your playing field and players and involve them.  For the better of the project.  For this what a good project manager does – care for his project and team members and not follow his own agenda.

Posted in: Project failure, Project Management

Leave a Comment (0) →