View the summary report on PMI workshop findings: Project Management Dynamics, Root Causes of Project Failures, Stories of "Fixes that Fail" (462K, 10 pages, pdf)
Previously allowed purchasing the paper. Here it is for a time without charge: Project Management Dynamics (1147K, 26 pages, pdf format) that fully explains the influences that result in project failure, the causal loop feedback structure and how to make practical use of it, was $10.00
Projects really do not work in a straight line of serial and parallel tasks started and completed (as portrayed by Gantt charts and PERT/CPM). Progress is actually accomplished iteratively.
Standard project management approaches do not cope well in dealing with
- the quality of the work done, where quality determines the amount of required "rework," "rework discovery time" effects that determine the dormant "undiscovered rework" that eventually becomes actual required "rework" and also propagates errors into other project tasks, or
- the "side-effects" of overtime, rapid hiring, and the competing pressures of schedule, scope, cost and quality that impact intangibles like morale and fatigue.
Projects arent problems to be solved; they are "messes" of interdependent problems. For problems, root causes are independent and separable; we can divide and conquer. But with messes, root causes are interdependent feedback processes that limit successful project completion or, worse yet, lead to project death spirals. For systems messes, we must seek to understand behavior by examining the whole, instead of by analyzing the parts.
This workshop, and the papers referenced below, review the feedback structures and human characteristics that cause projects to fail ... because we fall into the impossible region!
|We must stay out of the Impossible Region! OR DIE|
The report, Project Management Dynamics, Root Causes of Project Failures, Stories of "Fixes that Fail" (download), summarizes the results of a Project Management Institute meeting in which, as a quick research project, we reviewed influences on project failures and used proportional voting to distribute votes among the candidate root causes. This allowed us to determine the groups expert ranking of the causes. We also showed how to use a "strategy matrix" to move from causal loops and driving forces to coordinated action to improve project performance using standard project management approaches.
In a March 2003 presentation/workshop with the Colorado Springs chapter of the Project Management Institute, participants ranked the following as the top influences leading to project failure:
1 poor scope definition
2 lack of proj mgmt discipline
3 fire fighting
4 poor business processes
5 incomplete specs
6 poor change control
7 inadequate systems thinking
8 overcoming "group multiple personality disorder
(too little use of the wheel of learning)
9 not in support of company value proposition
10 defensive routines
The amazing thing about this ranking by experienced project managers is that influences like "inadequate systems thinking," "the wheel of learning," and "defensive routines" ranked in the top 10 though participants had little, if any, exposure to these concepts and system dynamics gets barely a mention in the PMBOK. Also, "poor business processes" and "not in support of company value proposition" are often not thought of as part of the project management problem, as such, ... they are higher, systems level issues for which we might say, "The operation was a success, but the patient died."
"Note that "fire fighting" comes in at #3! To learn how to shift from fire fighting to fire prevention, see our Exponential Improvement page.
For summary results from a PMI workshop, download the report. (462K, 10 pages)
For an explanation of how to read the systems diagrams, download A Brief Introduction to Systems Diagrams. (119K)
Previously allowed purchasing the paper. Here it is for a time without charge: Project Management Dynamics (1147K, 26 pages, pdf format) that fully explains the influences that result in project failure, the causal loop feedback structure and how to make practical use of it; was $10.00
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