Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing, and Recovering from Project Failure (英语) 精装 – 2011年3月1日
"When you're in crisis mode, reach for this book to assess the core problems and create an action plan." --"Wrike blog"
Todd C. Williams, PMP (Camas, WA) is a senior project audit and recovery specialist with over 25 years of international experience.
Williams embraces a holistic approach to project management. He explains the need and value of existing project management tools that help rescue the project management. And he goes beyond the mere listing of tools. In the Introduction of the book he stresses four key factors that are critical in rescuing a problematic project: (1) The answers to a problem in or with a project are in the team. (2) A strong team can surmount most problems. (3) Stay involved with the team. (4) Objective data is your friend, providing the key way out of any situation. By emphasizing the value of the team Williams goes beyond a mechanical "Abhandlung" of a recipe book for project rescues. He explains in simple, plain and thus easy to understand language why most answers to problems in and with a project are rooted in the team. A project is not made up of resources but human beings interacting in a social environment, building communities and network. As complex and complicated this network is, it contains an endless number of potential traps and opportunities at the same time.
Having set up the foundation of his approach to rescuing projects Williams outlines 5 steps to recover struggling projects:
The first step is to realize that a problem exists. As simple as this sounds this may actually be the most difficult step of all. The key is that the awareness of a problem is not limited to the operational level of a project but that management has to acknowledge this fact and expresses an interest in resolving the issue, helping the team to become successful.
The second step to project recovery is an audit of the project. The term "audit" has a negative connotation to many project practitioners. This must not be the case if all audits would follow the guidelines Williams describes in his book. He starts analyzing the human role in a project, followed by reviewing the scope on a red project, determining timeline constraints and examining technology's effect on the project.
The insights gained from the audit analyzed in the third step. They are the ingredients for planning the actual project recovery. To me this part of the book is the most valuable one. Not because the author develops a clean and clear outline effective approaches to analyzing audit data but because he explains how they fit in with the core statement of the book, that a strong team is one of the critical success factors for project recovery. Doing so he stresses that project recovery is not a mechanical task, following a checklist and applying sane project management techniques. Instead he explains that it takes leadership and oversight, a deep understanding of the heart and soul of a project. Acknowledging the fact that more and more projects do not follow the traditional, sequential waterfall approach, Todd Williams gives an overview of other project management frameworks and methodologies, namely Agile and Critical Chain. He then compares them with respect change management needs, customer relationship, estimations, project constraints, subcontractor relations, and team structure.
The fourth step to project recovery is to propose workable resolutions. This is when the recovery manager presents the insights from the audit analysis and concluding mitigations and negotiates the next concrete steps with the project sponsor and stakeholders. Williams stresses the importance of staying focused on project recovery and not getting sidetracked by distractions such as maintenance and other conflicting projects.
Last but not least, the fifth step involves the actual execution of the recovery plan.
As hard, tedious, frustrating and rewarding project recoveries can be one of the key questions is what project managers can learn from past mistakes and successful recoveries. This is covered in the final part of the book entitled "Doing it Right the First Time: Avoiding Problems that Lead to Red Projects". It shows that project failure often starts at the very beginning of the project. It can be prevented by properly defining a project's initiations, assembling the right team, properly dealing with risk and implementing effective change management.
While the book may be most interesting to those who are facing or have faced problem projects I hope that novice project managers read this book, too. It will help them avoid common mistakes and set up a good and solid structure for project success. And in case troubles arise this book will help them guide projects to safer havens.
Todd offers insightful and sometimes amusing explanations in his case studies. I particularly liked Case Study #3-1 The Stockholm Syndrome. But my favorite was Case Study #8-5 Name the One Thing the Customer Would Love. It never hurts to make me smile while reading something that could, in someone elses hand, be considered dry.
The book presents suggestions and prescriptions based on the author's 25 year experience as a "Senior Audit and Recovery Specialist" and each chapter is peppered with very readable, brief case studies highlighting examples of his applying the techniques he describes. While there are a few examples that come off as a bit self-aggrandizing all are immensely helpful in understanding how and why the techniques work which provides a degree of credibility lacking in many business books.
A seasoned Project Manager will recognize their own experience as the author notes that poor scope definition, lack of executive leadership, and ineffective change management are barriers to project recovery (and most likely contributed to problems in the first place). And no PM should be surprised at the need to perform an audit and engage with stakeholders to collect data and understand the current and desired states. However the author follows his own prescriptions providing specificity in his examples of how each of these is often done wrong and how to do them right.
It may be unsettling to some PM's to read the suggestion that a specialized, external "Recovery Manager" rather than the Project Manager him or herself is the best person to perform the audit and analysis. The chief argument in favor of this approach is that "An objective view is critical to a proper audit and reducing any preconceptions of a solution." The book notes the potential for resistance to this notion but it seems a reasonable approach and calls to mind the frequently cited Einstein quote that "Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them."
The audit is the second of the five steps in the recovery process with the first being the problem realized and the remaining three being analyze data, negotiate solutions, and execute the new plan. The "how to" of each step is well described and the book's companion website provides templates and spreadsheets to assist in rescuing your own projects should your organization decline to hire a recovery manager. Another of the recurring themes of the author's method is to start performing root-cause analysis early and to respond to the findings quickly, "This is a distinguishing feature of my approach; other approaches often omit root-cause analysis or leave it for the end of the process." The reason for this is straightforward...until the root causes are found and mitigated; they are still able to exert the same kind of pressure on the project that put it in the red in the first place.
Identifying and recovering from project failure are not the only goals of the book; prevention is an essential theme to which the last 40 pages are dedicated and again the author's experience proves valuable as he provides details for improvement in, and specific examples of the areas of leadership, team management, risk and handling change. Chapters 10 through 13 are not officially part of the section on prevention but clearly could be. These chapters provide some of the best primers on and comparisons of classical, agile and critical chain methodologies that I've read and I couldn't agree more that when it comes to methodology, "This philosophy--one size fits all--really fits no project." The idea is to treat methodologies as tools in the bag where the marrying of the right methodology to the particular project can go quite a long way toward avoiding problems.
While many of the 261 pages of Rescue the Problem Project present ideas with which an experienced Project Manager is likely familiar, there is much to gain in the detailed examples and the way in which the ideas are presented. New PM's (those who have some education or experience in the field) will certainly benefit as they learn from the author's advice and experience how to prevent projects from going into the red.
Todd pays excellent attention to how people at all levels of management impact the success or failure of a project. At the same time, Todd forces to rely on facts, not opinions of what may be going wrong with a project. Todd offers a sound methodology of recovering the project and the elements of what should be included in any project management plan.
He addresses all aspects of auditing the project for a proper assessment and analysis to make sure the project or parts of the project are even worth fixing. Rather than move right to execution, I appreciated the negotiation section to ensure that before going forward all interested parties are focused on the right result.
Although this is a "rescue" methodology, knowing how to fix the project will ensure you head off the problem before it even starts. Finally, the methodology pays homage to the customer whose happiness determines our business success.
It offers level-headed, immediately applicable approaches for anyone who finds themselves cleaning up a project mess. I think the book is especially valuable for people who are dealing with their first project recovery.
I required portions of this book in my Practical Project Management for Leadership course: twenty percent of the participants--folks from five continents--felt it was the most helpful of the assigned readings.