Get Sacking – Path to Project Success?

Posted by Kevin Brady on Sat 24th June 2006 at 11:43 AM, Filed in Project Management

This Post explains with an example from Microsoft how many corporations believe that sacking staff and especially managers is the path to better IT project /programme success rates.

Friends know at their cost, not to get me on the subject of IT project failures when dinning out. My passion for this subject knows no bounds, having spent the best part of 20 years studying “The Madness” i.e. project failure rates of between 70% and 91% with projects cancellation rates of approximately 30% (Standish Group Report).

CHAOS Standish Group Report and other surveys suggest many reasons for such failure rates. However, the ability of these surveys to get to the heart of the problem heavily depends on who’s asking the questions. Obviously a survey questionnaire prepared by a “heavy-weight” IT programme manager is going to look very different to a survey set-up and designed by a university academic. The key thing to remember when designing questionnaires is that:-

“You always have to know what you don’t know, to ask the write questions. This depends on experience”.

I have seen no evidence to-date in any of the published IT Project /Management Surveys compiled during the last 10 years suggesting, or even insisting, on the use of heavy-weight Project /Programme Managers in the design and formulation of survey questionnaires.

It is therefore no surprise that none of the surveys seem to ask questions about:-

- The pressure Project / Programme Managers are put under in order to spin /lie about troubled IT projects for fear of getting the sack.

- “Conspiracies of optimism” i.e. corporate cultures where only positive thinking is allowed and risk and issue management is dead or dying on the vine. “Speak out and you’re shown the door”.

Conspiracies of optimism and cultures where lying and spin management are the norm is in my view the beginning of the beginning of the end for an IT project and its chances of success. Even when it is clear at inception that a Project /Programme concept is unfeasible, all too often no one dares to speak out, especially when software vendors are involved who see nothing else but the “Gold in them there hills”. Keeping the gravy train going is the top priority in these situations.

Conspiracies of optimism are a key ingredient of most failed IT projects /programmes I have audited over the past 10 years.

If only transparency and reality had been provided at the beginning /and taken forward on a regular basis (by the project /programme manager), perhaps these projects could have been either scrapped before they cost the company a penny or set-up with a fighting chance of success i.e. the right budget set, adequate and feasible target dates for delivery, and the selection of the correct type /amount of resource etc.

Then I read an article in the Times entitled “Microsoft Chief Urges Bosses to Get Sacking” which just seemed to throw petrol onto the blazing fire. Apparently the CEO Steve Ballmer, a man with a personal worth of $14 billion (£7.8 billion), seeks to dismiss 6.5 per cent of his global workforce every year. He states regarding optimum numbers of staff to axe:

“Whatever you think you can do better with, you should double that.”

“All companies of all sizes should be asking themselves that question.”

When you added to the mix General Electric who dismisses 10% of its management each year, it is no wonder spin and conspiracies of optimism are likely to be recurring and growing features of future IT Project Failures for some years to come. Look where conspiracies of optimism got Adolf Hitler (1945) ! Reality /Transparency or defeatism as it was referred too was a banned subject at the map table right up to the day of Hitler’s suicide. The only thing which could fill the void left by the absence of facts was the presence of fantasy armies and secret weapons which never existed. Thoughts of anything else meant prison or death!
The constant threat of the sack to Project Managers if they fail to get results can only make current IT failure rates a set of sticky numbers with little chance of beneficial improvement. How can things be any different if the only game in town is a culture where blind optimism, limited /no risk issue management and socially acceptable spin is the order of the day?

Perhaps advocating transparency and reality of a Project /Programmes true status at all times is nothing more than utopia. Only industries such as engineering and construction, where 95% project success rates are common place, is reality and transparency king. THANK GOD or I would be wearing a hard hat while writing this article!

Every company wanting to take a serious attitude to the devising of a new IT strategy, needs to create a culture where reality, integrity and transparency is King or they will be wasting 70% to 90% of their IT Projects Budget each year. HARD BUT TRUE FACT! Please see the following document for a check list on how to make this cultural reality.

Whatever you decide to do it certainly sounds like risk and issue management is dead at Microsoft and might be one of the elusive reasons why Vista (as with Windows 95) is being delivered late.

Good Luck Microsoft.

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