Managing a “Dangerous Opportunity” Project
By H Mingail
I call projects like this “a dangerous opportunity”. I inherited a troubled initiative, which not only did not know what they were really trying to deliver, but they were delivering badly.
My client contact was under severe pressure from the parent company to fall in line and develop a multifunctional enterprise computer system from scratch. Application software packages wouldn’t do because they “already looked at them”. And of course the project was “to be completed yesterday” To make matters worse, my client’s boss was an exceedingly intelligent and charismatic individual who lacked experience, yet had the dominating, strong-willed and demanding presence to prolong the project damage.
Why did I take on this “death wish” project? Suffice it to say that once upon a time I skydived while these days I go out of my way to find challenging, turnaround initiatives. Here are some of the things I did.
1. I suspected that building an enterprise initiative from scratch was unwise. My predecessor really didn’t do problem solving due diligence. Yet my client’s boss, all of the executives and the parent company thought otherwise. To make a long story short, I asked their indulgence to quickly define some key aspects of their business needs, after which they convinced themselves that customized route was suspect and then unanimously chose an enterprise ERP package as their solution. Because a project manager has to influence without complete authority in a matrix environment, one of the best ways to do so is to allow management to convince themselves with solid and objective problem-solving.
2. Okay, so they were on the right path but I now had to conquer the complexities of preparing and implementing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). These monster projects impact every business function, are highly complex and demand high priority attention from most of an organization’s management and staff. To ensure that stakeholders were on the same page I collaboratively prepared a project charter as the foundation and beacon for a shared project vision and a basis for future project budgets and schedules.
3. Given the high project profile, a team size of 50 with other indirect participants, organizational inexperience, a lengthy project time horizon, a budget which was 5% of sales and immature implementation practices, I helped management to identify project risks as extremely high. By doing, I garnered support for a strong risk management program.
4. Now it was time for me to “delegate in detail”. Following the five rules of estimating and work-breakdown structure methods, I fostered a project schedule and critical path, taking care to include all major stakeholders in order to win their commitment, support and hopefully passion.
5. Turnaround projects demand change, especially for ERP’s. To this end, I empowered two influential project members as change agent champions.
6. My predecessor over-supervised the people. In contrast, I began supervising the work, giving creative and highly specialized workers a zone of freedom to allow them to feel empowered.
7. To inspire trust and open the lines of communication I also cultivated relationships with subordinate project leads.
8. To foster the more timely emergence of the classic “norming stage” of project, I worked with the team to record agreed norms including: strive to do better than budget and schedule commitments, continually share knowledge and criticize the behaviour not the person.
9. In sessions with individual staff member I asked “What do you want from your job?” Subsequently I proceeded to fulfill as many of these expectations as possible.
10. I engaged my time-tested qualities when recruiting for the team. trustworthy, genuine, conscientious, at least moderately intelligent, positive problem-solver, hardworking, a team player, willing to learn and happy with the gift of their existence. After that, the rest tends to be much easier.
Innovation is always a primary part of my “modes operendi”. I encouraged my project reports to “think out of the box”. We continuously improved the practices to the familiar tune from hecklers that “It Cannot Be Done”. Well, we did it. Another of my “parachute jumps” safely landed.
Harry Mingail has taught/teaches Basic Project Management, Project Management for Administrative Professionals, Project Management for Information Systems, and Senior Project Management seminars for Canadian Management Centre.