Looking back at a major/failed IT project

Check out “Anatomy of a runaway IT project” by Bruce F. Webster.

The following document is the actual text — carefully redacted — of a memo I wrote some time back [i.e., several years ago] after performing an IT project review; names and identifying concepts have been changed to preserve confidentiality (and protect the guilty). The project in question was a major IT re-engineering effort for a mission-critical system; at the time I did this review, the project had been going on for several years and had cost millions of dollars; it would eventually be canceled and the work products abandoned. The memo itself provides an interesting glimpse into just how a major IT project can go so far off the tracks that nothing useful is ever delivered.

It should be a schoolbook example of what can happen if you fail to do proper project management on projects. Some might find this has a “days of our lives” factor (tv soap), yet you might be astonished when you see the amount of projects that actually succeed in their objectives (16%).

Last Note
Credits to Geek&Poke for the cartoon; they mentioned a link to zdnet about the triangle for project management, yet I found that it took the wrong perspective… If you’re interested in this, check out an older post of mine about the devil’s triangle of project management.

Quick wins?

A few days ago we talked about “Low Hanging Fruits“. The concept can be used in Project & Change Management too. When handling projects/changes you might want to opt for first focusing on a “Quick Win”.

Imagine; you need to do a full ERP migration. Here you might think of doing a small (which might even be trivial) & easy component first. This way the business will be presented with a visual confirmation about the project, and your team gets the needed boost. This increase in morale will give you the extra edge for the more lengthy/tough situations.

Feedback Sandwich

Feedback is a central component of the manager-employee relationship. Yet managers often only provide corrective (or negative) feedback. This will (sometimes) result in the employee being defensive, and generate a negative rapport with this person. The “feedback sandwich” model is a way to package negative feedback.

You really did an excellent job on ‘Project X’; everybody was very impressed! In the future, it would be better to avoid doing ‘action Y’. It’s great that you put so much thought into this and a lot of people are going to benefit from it!

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Low hanging fruit

We have Mother Nature to thank for the expression low hanging fruit. A fruit-bearing tree often contains some branches low enough for animals and humans to reach without much effort. The fruit contained on these lower branches may be not be as ripe or attractive as the fruit on higher limbs, but it is usually more abundant and easier to harvest.

simple problem or target : a target that is easy to achieve, or a problem that is easy to solve
Pick the low-hanging fruit first by identifying the most obvious opportunities.

The term low hanging fruit is often associated with the sale of consumer products or services. Sales professionals, especially those who are just entering the field, are encouraged to seek out the easiest customers first, which sales managers may call “low hanging fruit.” Competitors may spend more of their time seeking out the higher commission sales of higher “customer branches”, leaving the low hanging fruit behind for others to claim.

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Management Styles

Heroic versus Engaging
During my college of “Information Strategy” I was exposed to the difference in management styles. In short you have the “heroic” managers that are based on themselves, where you have “engaging” managers who are based upon collaboration. Let’s go through the both styles to see the differences.

Heroic Management
based on self
Engaging Management
based on collaboration
Managers are important people, seperate from those who develop products & deliver services. Managers are important to the extent that they enable other people do the important work of developing products & delivering services.
The higher “up” these managers go, the more important they become. At the “top”, the chief executive is the corportation. An organization is an interacting network, not a vertical hierarchy. Effective leaders work throughout; they do not sit on top.
Down the hierarchy comes the strategy (clear, deliberate & bold) emanating from the chief who makes the dramatic moves. Everyone else “implements”. Out of the network emerge strategies, as engaged people solve little problems that evolve into big initiatives.
Implementation is the problem because, while the chief embraces change, most others resist it. That is why outsiders must be favored over insiders. Implementation is the problem because it cannot be seperated from formulation. That is why committed insiders are necessary to come up with the key changes.
To manage is to make decisions and allocate resources (including HR). Managing thus means analyzing, often calculating, based on facts from reports. To manage is to bring out the positive energy that exists naturally within people. Managing thus means inspiring and engaging, based on judgment that is rooted in context.
Rewards for increasing performance go to the leaders. What matters is what’s measured (shareholder value?). Rewards for making the organization a better place go to everyone. Human values (many of which cannot be measured) matter.
Leadershhip is thrust upon those who thrust their will upon others. Leadership is a sacred trust earned through the respect of others.

(Note: Some see a relation to “Servant-Leadership“)

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The man with the plan; the communication plan!

There is always communication!
When it comes down to change, it’s all about communication. Yet how often does one practice this in a decent manner? The first step is to realize that there is -always- communication! Let us say that we’re managing a restructure… Would you tend to hold communication off until you know everything? If so, did you think that people won’t talk amongst themselves? The ‘gossip’ is also communication, and it’s even communication that you cannot control! It happens because people do not like uncertainty and they will fill in the blanks with their own stories. Even though you want people to be creative, I don’t think this is the best situation to let them fantasize.
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Executive Summaries… Say what?!?


The executive summary contains enough information for the readers to become acquainted with the full document without reading it. Usually, it contains a statement of the problem, some background information, a description of any alternatives, and the major conclusions. Someone reading an executive summary should get a good idea of main points of the document without becoming bogged down with details.

We’ve already talked about presentations that suck (and how to improve them), making messages stick and the elevator speech. The basic idea behind it all is to “sell” a given idea by making it interesting for people.

An executive summary is kinda like your elevator speech for a given document. As the name already indicates; it’s a summary, so it shouldn’t be very long. Yet what most people forget is to “sell” the idea behind it. You’ve spent so much time on this document (time=money?), so make the effort worth while. The last thing you want is to have your document thrown away just because the management summary sucked. The elevator speech is your “foot in the door” for future meetings. And the executive summary will do this for the rest of your document.

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The SMART principle is management jargon for a simple & unified way of setting up and checking objectives. The abbreviation of smart stands for:

  • Specific : The objective must be simple, but clear.
  • Measurable : Which metrics indicate whether or not or objective is met.
  • Acceptable : It must be accepted by your stakeholders.
  • Realistic : The have to be realistic. There is no point setting objectives that cannot be met.
  • Time : When should we reach or target?

The principle is often used in project management to define milestones, yet it is applicable in may area’s…


  • A friend of mine taught me an interesting addon to this principle. Instead of using SMART, use SMARTER (or MASTER). The E stands for “Equiped” where you also want to provide the means for your people to reach the objective.
  • Some critics have pointed out that not all objective can be noted using the SMART principle (security, happiness, …), and that it isn’t always pointless to set goals that cannot be met.

So use it where you see fit, but I find it a very good guideline for creating objectives.

Neurological Levels : Understanding the root for change

In short
The neurological levels are very useful for understanding change from an individual, social or organization point of view. They were proposed by anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1972, 1979). He defined a hierarchy of abstraction including beliefs, values and identity. He perceived relationships as having a higher abstraction than identity, and therefore influencing lower levels in the hierarchy, such as beliefs and behavior.

Six Logical Levels

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