Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond once wrote, “Although we tend to seek simple, single factored reasons for success, in most important things, success requires avoiding the many possible causes of failure”. Although Diamond was writing about societies as a whole , the underlying principle (called the “Anna Karenina principle” because of its origins in the famous Tolstoy novel) is as true in a project environment as it is in many other situations.
In the context of a technology project, the “many possible causes of failure” are the very many ways in which decision making can go wrong. Much as a flaw in one nucleotide on one strand of DNA can cause catastrophic health problems, errors in the complex chains of project related decisions can have serious consequences. The making of bad decisions, the failure to recognise those mistakes and the failure to address the problems those mistakes create are the mechanisms by which failure occurs.
Better decision making can be achieved in a number of ways. There is the old style, school of hard knocks, approach in which organizations go through the slow painful approach of living through project failures and there is the model in which organizations directly address the issues as part of a comprehensive training program. Realistically the hope for improving project success rates lies in providing teams with better training. The training regime used by most organizations places a heavy focus on the process of Project Management and the supporting tools. While these are an invaluable part of the toolkit, they represent Project Management 101 level skills. The urgent need in many organizations lies in going beyond that basic level of knowledge and developing the more advanced insights to be able to see the symptoms of project failure and the strategies for securing success.
Robert Goatham is the principal of Calleam Consulting. Robert founded Calleam in response to the on-going challenges organizations face in developing the leadership skills necessary to successfully deliver today’s complex technology projects. Specializing in the study of failed projects, Robert translates hindsight from yesterday’s projects into the foresight needed to ensure tomorrow’s success. Robert has more than 20 years experience in the technology sector playing roles that include developer, technical lead, architect, quality manager, coach and senior project manager. As a public speaker, writer and trainer Robert provides audiences with insights that go beyond the theory of a text book and speak directly to the challenges people face in today’s workplace. Robert is passionate about helping organizations and individuals develop their skills. Visit www.calleam.com for more information.