Do you hear that ticking?

Time BombHow are your projects going? If you have responsibility for multiple projects, do you feel like they are in control? Do you know their status? Or does it seem like there is a strange ticking coming out of the back room where the project managers sit? A ticking that feels ominous but you can't pinpoint.

If you are in the latter camp, you are not alone. Unfortunately. According to some University of Oxford research making its way into newspaper headlines, One in six IT projects is a 'ticking timebomb': says

A surprisingly high number of business and government technology projects are 'ticking time bombs', according to researchers at the University of Oxford. They analysed 1,500 global projects that had revamped their information technology systems within the last 10 years. They discovered that one in six projects in the sample went over budget by an average of 200 per cent (in real terms) or over ran by an average of almost 70 per cent.

Great, huh? But what do you do about it? Are you doomed to randomly lose every sixth project? Does it have to be random? What if you could KNOW the status of the projects as they are executing, rather than only once they have finished (or blown through their budget)? The whole point of good project and portfolio management is that you have control over the system - appropriate controls, not micromanaging and not totally hands-off.

What are those pieces?

  • Stop forcing people to multitask. This just slows down all the projects they are working on. Usually this means keeping more projects in the hopper with the expectation that all will flow faster.
  • Pipeline management. Separate idea generation from idea execution! Most organizations have more good ideas and more opportunities than they can possibly execute. Establish a flow of projects that pulls into execution from the pool of ideas / opportunities as other projects flow out.
  • Credible plans. Once projects are ready for execution, build credible plans that the project team can believe in. Don't start a project until you have a good map of where you think it will go.
  • Priority management. Once projects have been released into the system, use the same priority mechanism across all projects, so that project teams, shared resources, and management all have the same information on the status of those projects and input they might need to provide.

Critical Chain Project Management is one methodology that provides these things. Good single project planning. Good pipeline management. And good execution mechanisms, based around the concept of buffer management.

Other places this "ticking time bomb" research has shown up: The Toronto Star with some commentary from other academics. Andrew King's piece in The Tech Republic asking, Are IT projects really ticking time bombs? where I first found it. This research is a good check on the Standish Group annual Chaos Report that describes the state of IT project management. Generally, the research corresponds to Standish, though they use different metrics and the numbers are different. (Standish numbers of failures tend to be closer to 30% failures, rather than 16%.)

[Photo: "Time Bomb" by Antonio Cambronero]

2 Comment(s)

J W said:

Stop forcing people to multitask sounds good... but in a world of "do more with less" that means people are doing more, working more, multi-tasking more. How do you stop and still get stuff done? Suggestions?

Excellent comment. At some point you (the organization) have to recognize that there is a difference between having a lot to get done and working on many things. Why not finish a few things and then decide on which thing needs to get finished next?

Keep track of all the ideas - all the stuff that presumably needs to get done. But only work on the FEW things (ideally one) that allow for focus.

Leave a comment


Previous entry: The Power of the 2x2 Matrix

Next entry: As fast as prudent (Slack again)

Picture a steaming coffee cup. Better yet, grab one and have a read!

KJolt Memberships

Follow jackvinson on Twitter

View Jack Vinson's profile on LinkedIn