The Elephant in the room – delay in project start

Isn’t it frightening that we take delays to project start so much for granted that we don’t recognize one of the most common causes of “failure” in projects?

Over the last 2 weeks I’ve been talking to many project professional, at the University of Manchester, in a major construction company and at the recent APM conference on Risk Management at Alderley Park (which was excellent, by the way).

We were all discussing the things that go wrong with projects, but the startling point that everyone was making is that late project start against an agreed plan is the most common problem, and that it usually threatens project success before it even starts.

It’s bad enough when the start date slips and the end date matches it, as the context of the project has changed (summer becomes winter, resource is redeployed while waiting etc) but what is even worse is that the target date often slips less than the start date, if at all.

As project professionals, we give realistic estimates for the cost and duration of our projects, only to find that we have to do most of them more quickly with less resource, in more demanding circumstances.

Late starts to projects are not a project management failure, they are a commercial issue, and project managers rarely have any influence over this, but we have to do the best we can and are accused of failure if we fail to do the impossible.

This is due to poor accountability within organisations – if Procurement were held to account for delaying the start of the project  and its consequent failure,  instead of being measured on penny-pinching and trying to squeeze out the last penny on price, things might get better. The cost or project delay needs to be understood and measured, and commercial teams held accountable.

None of that helps the project manager, of course. I’m currently working up my thoughts on this as part of a new programme for the University of Manchester and some industrial clients.



Meetings: the Curse of The Working Classes

I particularly liked this article on behaving effectively in meetings.

It reminded me of some othe organizations I’ve worked with where there are so many meetings that little or no work gets done during the working day (any real work gets done in the evening or even the middle of the night).

What are bad reasons for attending meetings?

  • To keep abreast of what is happening (much better and quicker to read the minutes/notes/actions after or just ask)
  • To be seen/assert your importance – I’m so important my diary is full for weeks with meetings so I can’t see you for months
  • To “design by committee” – always avoid this!
  • Because someone invited you when you don’t know why, what you will be able to contribute or what you will get from it
  • Waiting for the meeting defers starting work on the problem

There is lots of good advice on managing meetings published – what most experts don’t discuss is how not to waste your time going to them!

Before accepting a meeting invitation, consider:

  • Who will be there? Is it important for building a working relationship to meet these people physically?
  • What is it for? Are the objectives clearly defined and can I really contribute value?
  • How long is it? Will it just be 3 hours of waffle? Is it time I can spare?
  • Why am I invited? What am I expected to contribute? Can I provide that input before the meeting?
  • What benefit will I get from my attendance? What would I do instead? Is it a good use of my time?
  • What are the alternatives?

If the overall feeling is negative, be assertive and clarify your need to attend before accepting; get on with some real work instead.