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Delivery without dramas

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Don't you think it is odd that us Brit's have a strange habit of mostly remembering our less successful leaders and their antics?

Take “The Grand Old Duke of York”. He climbed a hill to his stronghold in Wakefield, then charged down the hill again unprepared for the battle ahead and met with a sticky end as did his unfortunate army.

This reminds me of not a few IT projects I have been involved in over the years. Whether it is the sheer tedium of the preparatory work or an inability to recognise an unfinished but critically important piece of the jigsaw, it is truly frightening how many projects pitch over into delivery without anyone making sure that the wheels are all on and that the swords have been properly sharpened.

The very first project that I was put on a year after my graduation was sorting a distributed control system which had been shipped to site and commissioned without being properly tested, and in truth without some of it actually having been written at all! It was an absolute nightmare to sort out and the thing that the customer ended up with bore almost no resemblance to the thing that had been shipped!

Of course there are all sorts of explanations for this madness: politics,  payment milestones, liquidated damages, peer pressure, pride… The list of excuses is endless but as one of my colleagues was once wont to say to a Policeman perturbed by his turn of speed “excuses a plenty Officer, but reasons none!”

The trouble is that sometimes it just happens by accident.

I'm a bit of a PRINCE2 geek (sorry!) and am convinced that one of the reasons we get into such trouble is that we often fail to understand and apply the discipline of end stage assessment. We have a tendency to trundle along without properly taking stock of everything we set out to deliver and allowing seemingly small building blocks to be overlooked in our enthusiasm to get to the “interesting” bit. It is only later as the amount of time left to sort the problem has diminished to almost nothing that the terrible truth dawns. If we are “lucky” we can sort it out by working through the night, if not our project is properly screwed.

It might seem heroic to win out against the odds but it seems to me also just a tiny bit daft when the alternative could have been a delivery without dramas.

Let's raise a glass and sing a song to projects without dramas!


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  1. Edward Wallington
    Edward Wallington 28 September 2015, 08:04 PM

    Great post Colin.  I agree with your reference to end of stage reviews, as well as folk 'dashing' forward to the interesting bit - I have seen this as well.  If we don't get the grounding right we are on a hiding to nothing.  This reminds me of a friend who pointed out many times to a builder that 'should we check the pond lining is in place'?  Needless to say, they filled the pond and it leaked... and they had to start again.  Stage gate of lining the pond anyone?@patw, great quote from the BA pilot! :)

  2. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 25 September 2015, 11:15 AM

    The problem is well brought up Englishmen (and women) alway underplay the situation.  My all time favourite is from 1982 when a British Airways plane flew through a cloud of volcanic ash over Indonesia and lost power to all of its engines. The pilot, Eric Moody, calmly informed the passengers: “Good evening again ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain here. We have a small problem in that all four engines have failed. We’re doing our utmost to get them going and I trust you’re not in too much distress and would the chief steward please come to the flight deck.”Fortunately, they were partially successful and the plane was able to glide far enough and make a safe landing at a nearby airport. Understaed 'good news' is always outranked by over stated bad news!

  3. Richard Renshaw
    Richard Renshaw 22 September 2015, 08:30 PM

    Good one Colin, personally I am of the opinion that if the strategy was robust then upon the close-out of the project or programme the expected "lessons learned" would correlate to what was the original plan.As you have articulated for various reasons the actual outcome or As-built plan / user satisfaction sometimes does not align to the approved original baseline.I am of the opinion that following on good initiatives like a project management method add value wherein the sponsor organization embraces the principles and themes such as P2 in particular.A springboard for the aspirational vision the associated road maps providing tactical guidance on how to attain the strategic objectives. Perhaps a mantra "delivery without drama" could be a reflection on how the sponsor has embraced the appropriate governance philosophy across the Enterprise and adopting national PM and ProgM standards. This would then lead onward to benchmarking PM maturity in different industries using uniform standards for the benefit of all. If the world was considered for a pilot initiative the UK then determination of the standards would in my opinion be straightforward and roll on the audit team to determine the level of compliance and then monitoring the trends over say a rolling three year period.Coming back to the Grand Old Duke of York, the result of his strategy was tragic. The learning point for me is that managing EI is relevant in the modern day wherein say for a public organization results need to be reported on a quarterly basis and if a publicly listed company the need for transparency in performance reporting is a benefit.Thanks for the opportunity of dialogue, appreicated.Kind regardsRichard