Recovering from the brink

Andrew Ball, head, IT Performance Audit at Audit Commission, was one the speakers at last week’s BPUG Congress. He spoke in a session on programme and strategic project management about how to deal with problems when projects go wrong.
His main argument was to plan for failure and avoid projects going sour. Although it sounds negative, it is really about constructive management of risk.
Risk management can help you plan for failure, whether you start planning or when you notice the warning signs that Andrew identified:
A conspiracy of silence: No one speaks about project problems
A big project board
Inadequacy of roles
Organisational dissent is when people develop their own solutions rather than using the product of the project.
Critical resource dependencies are those where all the skill is within a few key people
A elusive solution that no one has yet found.
Manufacture of insufficient resources (money, people).

These are all risks that can easily be addressed head-on. Taking action when you see warning signs could prevent a project from going wrong.
Andrew also raised a good point regarding the role of experts in project failure. He cautioned that experts who are unable to see the risks of a project should be avoided. No matter what their discipline, subject matter experts can become conditionally less sensitive to risks in their field. It does not necessarily mean that it is possible to do something. It is important to understand the difference between a gamble or a risk. Your expert may be able to do x,y, and z, but no one can throw six sixes with six dice. Although luck may be on your side it is not a calculated risk. Beware of experts who promise you that the project will be successful and that everything will work out. Other people may be more adept at identifying the risks than those closest to the project.