Your Project Hides Vampires
You’ve been there as a leader. Your implementation project had such a good start: a team of seasoned colleagues, an executive steering committee of highly respected executives, team leads who prepare meeting agendas and track action items, a sponsor who sends “atta boy” notes to team members, and good PR in the company newsletter. Then (drip) on your last status check in with teams you learn that a key integration is three weeks behind, and (drip) only three of six executive steering committee members showed up for the last two meetings, and (drip) the payroll team lead has given two weeks’ notice, and (drip) you overhear two team members talking in a cube, complaining – loudly – about working weekends and nights with no end in sight and planning to call in sick for a long weekend. Drains the blood right out of your face, right? You’ve got your own crypt of project vampires at work!
Think that you can stem the loss of blood without taking quick action?
Think again! We all know that without action, one vampire becomes two, two become four, and soon you’re hearing the drip, drip, drip of project slip! When a project vampire bares his ugly fangs your instinct may be to run for the hills, but experienced vampire slayers advise you to face him head on, and make a smart move – like the ones below – on bleeding issues.
1. PUT A STAKE IN IT
Scope Creep. It’s not unusual for projects to make significant demands on team member time, and many projects don’t have the luxury of implementers who can step away fully from their “day job” in support of the project. This is normal project time stress. When you notice or hear about over-functioning among team members this could actually be a result of poor scope management – folks doing more work than they originally committed to do. Scope creep is nefarious, and team members may be adding tasks and working them behind a perceived Dracula’s cloak of invisibility. These may be out-of-scope project tasks, or additional assignments from the “home office.” Review the approved scope of work with the entire project team; issue a “stop work” order for any tasks that are not directly aligned to approved scope; meet individually with team members to validate that their work distribution and assignments haven’t been adjusted or changed since the beginning of the project. Be the champion for your team in realigning work assignments and putting a stop to any unscoped work.
2. HOLD UP A MIRROR
Root Cause. One frequent lesson learned on a project is “solve the right problem.” Determine what, exactly, is the cause of a mysterious project issue, and spend time on resolving root cause rather than the initial, presenting, problem. There are many methods of Root Cause Analysis, and I recommend one that is quick and dirty – perfect for a vampire infestation. Called 5 Whys, it’s very simple: for the presenting problem, identify the true issue by asking “why” at least five times. Here’s an example using our problem of the disappearing executive steering committee members, based on a conversation with that committee:
Problem – only three of six executive steering committee members showed up for the last two meetings.
- Why? They had other, conflicting, meetings.
- Why? They didn’t block the Steering Committee meeting off on their calendar as a not-be-be-scheduled-over priority (hey, they have “good people” on the project team!)
- Why? They haven’t done this before and don’t perceive this meeting to be a priority in their work world.
- Why? No one ever told them it was a priority and why it was important to the project.
- Why? There was no orientation for the committee, and no executive charge. They were assigned via an email they received from the CEO’s Sr. Admin.
Now you’re in a position to initiate counter-vampire methods by addressing a deeper cause to the problem, the true issue; for resolution in this case, you may consider level-setting the steering committee expectations by providing an “updated” orientation to the role of steering committee members, and asking the senior executive for the project (consider C-level) to review and clarify the charge to the committee. That may not have been your initial approach to the no-show problem, and that initial approach would have been less likely to resolve the issue and prevent reoccurrence.
3. BE SPOOKY SMART
Resource Allocation: One component of a project we often “control” at the lowest level are the people assigned (resources.) Back to that in a minute; for now, think back to what you know about project Critical Path…the sequence of tasks or activities that are completed in order, and add up to the longest overall duration of time for the project. The Critical Path identifies the shortest time possible for you to complete the project and drives your go-live date. Critical Path tasks are the plasma attracting your vampires. If you haven’t determined your Critical Path tasks, back up and complete that exercise, then ensure you’re tracking those tasks as key milestones. When your project starts to trend towards late, then there is a critical path item that will be late. An understanding of Critical Path will help you make decisions, for example, on working at your lowest level of control – resource changes – to get a project back on track. For example:
- If two people are working on a task and it will take 6 days to complete it, can you pull someone from a non-critical-path task to join them, and have three people complete the work in 4 days?
- Can the two people working the task dedicate more of their time to this task, making it possible for them to complete it in 4 days? This acceleration impacts only a small subset of the team and is for a short duration, and should have a lower impact on overall team morale.
- Can you secure a qualified internal or external resource from outside the project for a short time (removing the risk of slowing down other tasks by pulling a resource?)
- Swap resources. Your 5 Whys analysis of root cause may lead you to the realization that one or more of your team members don’t have the right skill for the role, or aren’t as productive as you need them to be. Consider shifting team members to tasks where their skills are optimized, or moving a team member off the project and bringing on another who is a best fit for an issue resolution, and get the project back on track.
Be cautious here, this method is often referred to as Crashing, and you don’t want that to be crash-and-burn: putting some work on hold if you choose to shift a resource could impact another critical path item that is not yet trending late. Adding a new team member could end up slowing down the project when it requires orientation and training. Review the entire project and critical path whenever you make a change to your resourcing plan and project schedule.
4. LET IT FLOW
Get on the Fast Track: You’ve got slippage from the drip, and wearing a clove of garlic around your neck is no solution. The Fast Track is a method used by experienced project vampire slayers. Review the tasks that are scheduled as sequential, and dig in deep to identify those that can be reassigned as fully or partially parallel…in Project Manager speak, a shift from finish-to-start dependency to start-to-start sequence or start-to-start+lag sequence. For example, you have a data conversion scheduled to complete fully before data validation begins (finish-to-start dependency); can the data conversion be delivered in subsets, and data validation on the subset begin earlier than planned (start-to-start+lag sequence)? Before Fast Tracking, be sure to review project dependencies and validate critical task durations (if they are not accurate or not required, you may find the time you need and avoid the Fast Track!) A second-cousin to Fast Track is Scope Reduction or Phasing. Do you have components of the project that can be eliminated or shifted to a second phase (a second go-live) that will support the critical elements of the project to make the scheduled go-live? Reducing scope puts you in a position to get more work done more quickly, and although we all hate to extend the master project via the addition of sub-projects, it is a solution to consider when you’re in danger of missing the most critical components of the implementation.
5. THE SILVER BULLET
Move Fast: Your choices to eradicate project vampires become fewer the closer you are to the end date of the project. So:
- Start at the beginning: let your team know that every project faces issues, and explain some of the options you might consider when the bad dream comes true. (Share this post when you start a project, as an example!)
- Be fearless in calling out the issue as soon as you feel that telltale tingle on the back of your next;
- Make the issue special. Everything special gets more attention, and issue resolution in the interest of your project deserves attention. Consider calling the right team members together quickly to problem-solve just the issue – don’t wait for a routine status meeting;
- Instill a sense of urgency in decision-makers, but avoid a full scale panic! Your mantra: you are the wise and trusted leader, their guide in dodging vampires.
Be the Savvy Vampire Slayer and Staunch the Bloodbath on Your Project!
We’re interested in hearing your project horror story and the method you used to restrict the loss of blood. Please share in the comments (and alter names to protect those who were unlucky enough to feel the bite of the vampire!)