Jim Collins, in his great book, built to last talks about risk management. The senior management team need to know will a risk above or below the waterline. Just like a ship, a project can take many hits above the waterline, but few below them.
With project risks always separate out those above or below the waterline. Any other sophistication is of dubious benefit. It is in reality trying, often unsuccessfully, to put objectivity in a subjective area.
Unrealistic timeframes – the Rule of three
Don Tricker, former coach of the New Zealand’s softball team, is a gifted leader. Three world Cup Gold medals in a row! He told me one day that he had discovered the secret to realistic project timeframes. He called it the rule of three.
Over time, Tricker has become frustrated with coaches promising more than they can deliver. He noted that in reality you don’t have five days a week to do tasks; sports is about people; and issues that emerge are typically people issues that take time to resolve. “When planning, I assume that I’ll have three days in the week, with two days for firefighting or unplanned activity.” He now plans all projects on the basis that full-time means three days a week. He has find that projects are now completed on time.
So, you are told the consultant will be full time on the project, don’t be naive. Work out the total requirement and divide by three e.g., 60 consulting days will now take 20 elapsed weeks, not the 15 you had originally planned.
Have three pilots when testing a new system
Not all consultancy relationships are going to work. The key is to recognize early on that the relationship is off the rails and to investigate the breakdown. Warning signs of a project going off track include:
- In-house project staff are too busy with other duties.
- The project has been simmering for a long time before consultants were involved.
- Only one or two of the SMT members know of the project.
- Project team members talk in jargon.
- The project team produces prestigious reports (a reporting machine, rather than an action team).
- You are writing letters to the consultants.
- Terms of reference creep is beginning to become an epidemic.
- You see the consultants as contractors performing a task you could do better if you had the time.