It is Wicked and Messy? Or Simply Complex?

In projects size counts, Photocredit: Tito – Flickr

All projects are not created equal

Last year I was called in to mentor a rather large project (ok, it is huge) with their project management. It was running years late, mega-millions over budget – and could bring down the company when implemented. They were ‘project managing’.  It dawned on me that this project needed some new terms… the size, issues and complexity of this project was out of the norm. There they were, lost in the land of normal project management.

All projects are not created equal. Yet standard project management methodologies are applied on the assumption that things are logical, linear, and predictable. Reality check: we live in a world in which we don’t know where we’ll be in two years. In such a world, projects are rarely simple. Continue reading

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Danger: Failing to Assess the Costs of Failure

Spiralling impact of project failure, Protocredit: Pro-Zak, Flickr (CC)

Would you be pleased with a 27.5% write-off on your portfolio? 

Projects are investments, yet are they assessed as such?  A single project is either performing or not. It adds value to the portfolio or not. The failure to assess the costs of failure represents a major opportunity for business improvement.

I’ve spoken with Alex Budzier of Oxford University whose research is published in Sept ’11 Harvard Business Review. He showed that one in six IT projects cost 2-4 times what is expected, and that nearly 50% of such projects were underfunded. Continue reading

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Your IT Project is Riskier than You Think!

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One in six IT projects fail costing massively more than expected

After paying his dues as a Senior Associate at McKinsey, Alex Budzier decided to see what really happened with strategies. His work at Oxford University with Professor Bent Flyvbjerg shows that IT-based strategies have unusual patterns of failure and success. Alex shared some insights with me over brunch one September Sunday in Oxford.

“We found a distinctly different pattern for IT projects – the big ones fail more often – it’s a fat tail, not a normal distribution. They often cost 2-4 times what is expected,” said Alex over scrambled eggs. “And what’s more, nearly 50% of IT projects are under funded, they are starved.” Continue reading

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Keep Your Bouquet Fresh

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Successful teams and strategies are like a bouquet

Peter Robertson is the Founder of Human Insight, designer of the ACT and AEM Cube and author of “Always Change a Winning Team.” His work is said to be the new MBTI of leadership and strategic success. It is used by Phillips to evaluate its innovation teams. Peter and I caught up in Singapore over noodles.

“Successful strategies are like a bouquet”, begins Peter. “A successful strategy has a particular mix – like a good bouquet has more than one type of flower.” Continue reading

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Overcoming Resistance to Innovation and Change

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The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself

I was hosted by Walter McFarland of Windmills Consulting during my recent visit to Washington D.C. Walt was formerly a senior partner at Booz Allen and Hamilton, and is the Chairman-Elect of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD). He is also on the board of the Cahn Fellows Program at Columbia University.

Walt and I got to talking about the human side of strategy, capacity building and change. “Human behaviour in the work place”, he told me, “does not work as we thought. When you talk to David Rock and the Neuroleadership Institute, brain sciences clearly affect far more than we thought.” Continue reading

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The Danger of False Assumptions

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Remember, things are not always equal

It was surreal. I was watching the snow fall as Walter McFarland, Chairman-elect of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) and former senior partner at Booz Allen Hamilton, carefully drove us down the Interstate 66. Walter and I were discussing the role of role of strategy, organisational capacity, and business value.

“A key assumption with strategy seems to claim ceteris paribus. The Latin phrase was appropriate – even if it revealed a background finance and economics. I continued, “The assumption that a strategic choice is neutral is inappropriate. The terrain to be covered by one strategic choice is different to another..” Continue reading

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The Fallacy of Fire, Fear and Flames

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The real story of burning platforms

Daryl Conner is the founder of Conner Associates and a living legend in the field of organisational change and strategic delivery. I had the privilege of having breakfast with Daryl while I was in Washington, DC last month. 

“A Burning Platform, they’ve got it so wrong,’ said Daryl. ‘I was looking for a metaphor when I was writing ‘Managing at the Speed of Change’ back in the early 90s and I heard Dan’s story. Dan was on a burning oil rig on the North Sea and I was fascinated by his choice to jump 15 stories into freezing water where he might live 20 minutes before hypothermia killed him. If he stayed on the rig, he would have certainly burnt to death. Continue reading

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Insights – 8 for 2012 Year of the Dragon

Gong Xi Fa Chai!

In these first weeks of the Chinese New Year (western New Year has past, Thai and the rest of the Mekong will celebrate theirs in April), I decided to look at the top insights from the Science and Art of projects, change and innovation.

In keeping with the 8 Fold Path to Success, my top 8 are:

  1. Intent is Clear: Burning Platforms for change are about commitment to change (it’s not worth going back), not about creating a fear of change says Daryl Conner the man behind the burning platform metaphor.
  2. Projects Support Strategy: False assumptions are dangerous. Assuming all things are equal (between projects) is a prime source of project failure. The ground that each project needs to cover in the business varies from project to project. Continue reading
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