drunken clows

Please, please don’t be like this project, and for heaven’s sake, don’t be like these clowns!

Many years ago, a favorite client and colleague sent me this Dilbert cartoon. We’ve all seen projects like this – I know I’ve seen my share.

I recently became aware of a very large project. The team is still in the forming stage, perhaps beginning to storm. I hope so because the early indications are not favorable for the success of this project.

Without revealing identities, the structure of the project is reasonably typical. There is one client project manager. The sponsor chose three contract consulting firms to assist with the project. Here’s where it’s not so typical. It was further decided that one of the consulting firms would be responsible for the work of the other two consulting firms. I smell trouble already.

The project lead for the first consulting firm, we will call her Esther, has spent hours and hours going back-and-forth with the other two contractors on simple issues. In project meetings, Esther comes to agreement with the other two firms but then, half an hour later, she learns via email that there was no agreement after all. They were just giving her lip service.

When you dig into this little bit you discover a couple of things. Decision making rules have not been clearly outlined. Then, the project manager does not like to make decisions. He prefers to run everything by consensus. Consensus is great, but when a decision needs to be made, make it.

To make matters worse, Esther is finding out that the other contractors are doing an end run around and going directly to the client promoting their ideas when she doesn’t agree with the direction. Therefore, it appears that communication protocol also has not been clearly outlined.

This project is ripe for failure. It appears there is strong enough sponsorship, but there’s insufficient focus on work practices, communication protocols, and decision-making rights.

Many years ago, I worked on a huge project to merge two giant corporations. It was perhaps the best run project in which I’ve participated. Roles were clear. Communication was clear. Decision making processes were clear. If a contractor tried to do an end run around, they were stopped dead in their tracks.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the aforementioned project will have serious challenges if they don’t address these simple protocols. If they don’t, then the clowns will take over!

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