Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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How To Suck At Project Management

If you want to prove to other organisations that you really suck at project management, there are so many ways to do it. For a start, The Standish Group produces a Chaos Report every year and in it they outline the factors that make projects successful. You should ignore this (particularly the bit around the importance of having emotionally mature people). Similarly with the the Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession reports. Their blueprint for success (or Champions as they call them) would just be a distraction.

There are many other surveys that produce statistics which contain lists of the mistakes that are made over again when it comes to any kind of project delivery, so check which are relevant to you right now and ensure that you change nothing.

Here’s a few more pointers if you’re still unsure as to where to go wrong.

Set Unrealistic Targets

One way to demotivate everyone - this is an important failure mechanism - involved in a project is to pad the business case (if there even is one!) with grand statements about cost and time savings. Think you’ll save $50,000? Let’s make it a round million. Think a new IT system will save five minutes per day of someone’s time? Let’s plan to make 10 people redundant. Whatever the target, make sure it’s one that stretches the bounds of believability and doesn’t line up with any kind of strategy you may have.

Ensure Senior Managers Don’t Have Time for Governance 

It’s well documented that sponsoring a project is hard work, has different responsibilities to business as usual tasks and takes up time. Therefore, as well as ensuring that precious time isn’t wasted on them attending unnecessary planning sessions (see below), you also want to ADD more projects to your senior manager’s plate. You should constantly look for opportunities to do this, in order to create a level of disinterest necessary for project failure. Take care not to upskill them or cancel any other projects, as prioritisation is overrated. Make everything top priority and watch in awe as decisions aren’t made and projects fail. It’ll be poetic.

Skip Planning

The best projects bring people together. These people spend time learning to be a team, before working together over a period of weeks and months to build a plan that confirms whether the targets you’ve set in the business case (or email, that’s a better way to do it) are realistic or not. So you definitely want to skip this entire phase. Don’t go near it or do anything at all to encourage it. Remember, getting things right and doing things in the right way isn’t the goal here. Just take what you thought was possible - based on the consultants that you employed to tell you what you wanted to hear - and press play. Job done.

Invest in Processes But Not Leadership

If you want consistency, repeatability, role modelling and cultural evolution in the way you fail at your projects, then you’ll definitely want to spend all of your development money on implementing a complex method. Preferably by someone who’s never managed a project. This method should have at least 10 mandatory templates that need to be filled in, a dashboard with lots of traffic lights and an unreadable process diagram to pin up on the wall. If that starts to work, say you’re going ‘agile’ instead. You’ll have to buy a table tennis table and make the office open plan, but it’ll be worth it to maintain the failure rate. Don’t fall into the trap of training people or asking them to change their mindset. That might improve things as well and you don’t want that!

Make Everyone a Project Manager

Project management is a skill that everyone has. From birth. So regardless of whether you’re fitting out a store, changing a process, writing a new policy (usually on the whim of a government official), implementing an IT system or running an event, make the nearest person to you a project manager. The only criteria they have to meet is a willingness to accept everything the disinterested sponsor says, to question nothing and to rigorously avoid common sense. Oh and if you have a poorly performing individual that you don’t know what to do with simply make them Head of Special Projects. That will help keep the capability where it needs to be.

Being bad at projects is something that any average organisation can achieve and will also ensure that the culture will remain exactly as it is, for eternity. There are some organisations out there investing in things proven to work and seeing positive results in many areas of their business, but you don’t want to be like that, do you?

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