Project approach is one of the fundamental thoughts that comes to mind when talking about how to do successful IT projects. Many have speculated about the importance of project oriented thinking. Amazing presentations and trainings have been held on the topic, where project theories and methodologies seem to make perfect sense and give an ultimate solution to all of our project challenges. Still, we fail so many times over and over to apply even the basic principles whenever we face real life challenges.
In most cases however, our failure is not caused by not choosing the right project management tool set, or not applying it properly. We don’t even get so far as to think about tool set, but the very foundation of success is missing: the common will of the team to reach a project goal that makes sense within a reasonable time frame. Or, to have a team or a clear goal at all. These are the basics of what we call project approach, the basics that are so badly missing from so many projects.
But why do we fail in IT with what we are successful in our private lives? Let’s consider the Sunday family lunch for example: it is a project that most families complete successfully week after week without applying methodologies or building a project plan, even though its deadline is immovably fixed on Sunday noon, financial and material resources are limited and quality expectations are high. Yet we succeed, because there is a common will caused by hunger, driving all events into the same direction: the lunch ready, steaming on the table.
Let’s imagine for a moment what our Sunday would be like if we applied the same misused “project approach” we see day by day in our professional lives...
The Sunday Lunch Project
8:30 a.m. Kick-off meeting of Project Sunday Lunch (PSULU): Mom, the freshly appointed project manager explains the project goals and major milestones for the stakeholders (Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, little Pete and Claire, uncle Ben, aunt Rosie and Bingo the dog). The presentation focuses on the 13% fiber and 27% mineral content increase of the lunch compared to previous ones. No word is said about the actual menu, but it is clearly explained that the food will follow the now trendy fusion kitchen line, and will cooperate with the digestive system more smoothly than ever.
Mom plans that project realization will be divided into requirement analysis, design, implementation and testing sections and announces the time of the requirement analysis workshop to be 9:00 a.m. The audience asks no questions, only aunt Rosie complains about how too too much spice in last week’s soup gave her gas. Grandpa mumbles indistinctively, Bingo salivates happily.
9:00 a.m. Requirement Analysis Workshop of Project PSULU: Mom sets up a mobile flipchart in the kitchen and hands out yellow, pink and blue post-its for the participants to register their critical requirements, risks and expected results about the project. The participants hesitantly try to fill the papers, little Pete folds a three-color paper boat, the dog eats his post-its, Grandpa mumbles indistinctively.
10:30 a.m. Presentation of Plans: Mom and Dad hold a joint presentation about the menu which is planned to consist of Boeuf Bourguignon (beef soup), roast duck with rosemary, steamed cabbage and mashed potatoes, and finally Dobos cake for dessert. The preparation part of the project is announced to be completed, then the implementation plan is presented. The plan is to have the soup ready by 10:45, the duck and the pastry by 11:45, and to put lunch on the table by 12:00. Only Grandma sighs with a pinch of disbelief: “In my time it did not go so smoothly…”, the others nod contentedly.
11:15 a.m. Project Status Meeting: Mom and Dad have spent most of the time with preparations for the status meeting since the presentation of the plans. Mom states that if the participants agree to put the duck and the cake in the oven at the same time, the beginning of lunch is still feasible at 12:00, even though some activities are behind schedule.
The status meeting is almost closed when Grandpa suddenly starts talking. It turns out that his earlier mumbling was not caused by his complete satisfaction but by his false teeth missing, which he has finally found under the sofa. He complains that duck is unacceptable for him, not being able to chew neither to digest it. He wants chicken, or will not eat at all.
A searing quarrel breaks out mentioning last year’s burnt Christmas turkey, Grandpa’s indigestion and even the video camera the family lost on last summer’s vacation. The participants finally agree on the chicken, and record the decision in a meeting memo.
11:55 a.m. Scope Reduction Workshop: During implementation preparation the beef in the fridge turns out to have become green and the flour to be occupied by moths. To handle the situation, Mom and Dad prepare a scope reducing recommendation: the soup should be a simple vegetable soup, the dessert replaced by ice cream from the freezer.
The participants are enraged by the news. Aunt Rosie mops and mows about how she would have already finished the whole lunch, little Pete starts whining (“Mommymommy is the lunch ready yeeeeet???”). Dad resolves the situation by displaying his 560 lines long project plan showing how lunch would be ready by 1 p.m.
12:55 p.m. Project Status Meeting: Mom and Dad present the first actual project results consisting of a cup of half-cooked vegetable soup, a spiced but still completely raw chicken, and a set table. The presentation is a complete success as the audience cheers happily with the certain feeling that they are only a few steps away from eating. Uncle Ben, who sounds his disbelief about how a chicken could be roasted in five minutes, is quickly silenced and is being called a grump.
1:10 p.m. Intermission 1: Mom and Dad send out a short e-mail announcement stating that lunch is expected to be ready in a few minutes, and that the experienced slight delay is caused by unforeseen technical difficulties that are being dealt with at the moment.
1:25 p.m. Intermission 2: Still no sign of lunch. Desperate with hunger, little Pete starts chewing on Claire’s eraser.
1:45 p.m. Project Crisis Meeting: Mom and Dad announce in a short presentation that further delay is expected in the project. They clearly appoint the chicken’s vendor as cause of the delay. They explain that during the procurement process they have clearly expressed their expectations about a chicken that roasts in five minutes. The vendor has promised to fulfill this requirement, however only in a 1000-degree Celsius nuclear pile. This side condition was ignored during the procurement process by Mom and Dad, who were planning to roast the chicken in the family oven (capable of no more than 250 degrees).
Mom threatens the chicken with going to court for intentional tort, but it refuses to roast faster in spite of the increasing legal pressure.
1:58 p.m. Intermission 3: Claire and Bingo steal rye biscuits from the cellar. The starving family devours the biscuits in moments.
2:30 p.m. Project Status Meeting: Dad presents how the project is on the verge of success: negotiations with the chicken’s vendor are about to be closed down with an amicable settlement, evading the need of a legal procedure. The desperate audience watches the presentation silently, and phantasies about bread and butter.
2:55 p.m. Intermission 4: The chicken, forgotten in the oven during contractual negotiations, begins to show signs of coalification. Family members steal food from the refrigerator, Mom and Dad, who are too busy to notice all this, are preparing for the next Project Steering Committee meeting.
3:35 p.m. Project Steering Committee Meeting: Mom and Dad present the results of the project so far. They talk about a series of success: besides the soup being ready and reusable in later project phases, the project scope has also been finalized.
They propose to label the completed activities “Preparation Phase”. The next phase should focus on clarifying further requirements and goals about the main course. They request more resources for the upcoming activities and suggest more emphasis on designing and administering tasks. The meeting members accept the proposal on the condition that they can eat at least the soup, which has got cold in the meantime.
4:08 p.m. First Phase Go-Live: Mom and Dad serve the re-heated, meatless soup with all vegetables cooked into a pulp in it. Only uncle Ben and aunt Rosie show up for the event, the others (being stuffed with cookies) show no interest in it. Mom and Dad present future plans for phase two, which features roast pheasant, a foie gras and three different desserts.
5:30 p.m. Phase Two Scope Validation Workshop: Mom and Dad organize a workshop on phase two scoping, but all participants cancel the invitation.
6:10 p.m. Re-scheduled Phase Two Scope Validation Workshop: Participants don’t even cancel the meeting, they just don’t show up. Mom and Dad protocols the events and start working on the next Project Steering Committee material about eventual next phases of the project.
6:25 p.m.: Mom and Dad send out meeting requests for the kick-off meeting of Project SUDI (Sunday Dinner)...
(The article is the English translation of our Hungarian original published on Bitport in February 2014)