Monday 13 January 2020

Why projects fail part 1 - lies, damned lies and statistics

The TL;DR; the problem with projects is we start from completely the wrong place.

So, here are my observations:


Most projects are founded on lies because they almost never acknowledge how messy reality is.

The BIG LIE is that the iron triangle of project management ("cost", "scope" and "due-date") is achievable for any plan simply by being better at executing the standard methodology of detailed task lists and strict management. It takes a moment to know this cannot be true, how can a project know exactly what will happen in the real world?

It is fundamentally an estimate, with uncontrolled variables, so reality will vary. In evidence as well, we wouldn't be having this conversation if plans went well even some of the time.

The DAMNED LIES reinforce this mistake by refusing to change when they are shown to be manifestly wrong. If the people on the ground refuse to compromise quality, or suggest changing the plan, then they tend to be fired. Those who remain must accept blame for the inevitable problems.

This is politics, not intelligence, and is basically dishonest.

The STATISTICS problem is that only the symptoms of the problem are collected. This is like blaming lateness on people being late. That isn't analysis, it barely deserves the status of evidence. Almost never do you hear an analysis of how the planning failed, only the execution of the plan.

So, in my opinion, we must look at the plan to establish the root-cause of failure. Furthermore we must look at how we operate the plan as another root-cause of failure. Finally, and most importantly, we must look at the definition of failure, and realise that, like the old wisdom, in order to get where we want to go, we need to look at where we start.

Next up, I'll compound the misery, though hopefully there will be light at the end of this dark tunnel.

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