Jim Johnson, Chairman of the Standish Group, says that warning signs of project failure are easy to spot. I say, not so much. In an article in CIO, Johnson says lack of interest and poor communications are the two key early warning signs of project failure. Johnson speaks in the broadest of terms about everybody, and everyone.
Most of us recognize that buy-in from everyone is unlikely and probably an unreasonable expectation, especially as the size and scope of the project increases. Lack of interest as demonstrated by Johnson is equated to silence, and physical absence. His prescription is a bromide, “Make sure everyone has the same goals even when they have conflicting agendas.” Easy to say Mr. Johnson, but quite difficult to put into practice. Unfortunately, he offers no tips for success on enacting this measure, other than providing a positive environment.
Citing poor communication as an early warning sign seems very ‘on the nose’. If project planners and stakeholders are not talking to each other, it is hard to see a successful outcome. As we learned from our class simulations, there is a time and place for stand-ups, status meetings, and one-on-one coaching.
Other Agile advocates, according to the article, promote ‘velocity’, or delivering a lot of small tasks to create an aura of success. This perception of movement, of things happening, can be psychologically beneficial. Without, project participants may feel as if things are stagnating.
One of the last intangibles cited was proposed by Raj Kapur of the Center for Project Management. He says that an organization has to be accepting of bad news. Thank you, Mr. Kapur, for that. However, you provide us no mechanism for imposing a new culture on our organizations. That is not to say all projects will fail if these factors are operational, only that the likelihood of complete success is much, mush smaller.