Tag Archives: People

D is for… Directing Traffic

On a recent trip to India*, I observed a strange phenomenon that has a parallel with pointless Project Managers. I saw a great number of people, mainly in uniforms, whose sole function seemed to be to wave people in the direction they were going anyway.

This was particularly prevalent in the airport, but was also seen a lot with traffic on the street. You could argue that there was job was to be there in case of incident, but it merely looked liked the were waving their arms to give the appearance of adding value to the situation.

You get a lot of Project Managers like that. Watch out for them. They have no input of their own so, instead, they give the appearance that they are giving direction but, in reality, they are only waving people in the direction they were going anyway.

Agreeing with other people’s decisions, sending out emails saying “Yes, I agree, do that.”, is not managing, its just waving people towards a door that is already clearly sign-posted. Don’t do it. You look like a fool.

* I’m not suggesting this only happends in India, its just where I saw it and had the thought.

P is for… People (part 1)

Now we’re getting to the meat.

Cobb’s Paradox:

“We know why projects fail, we know how to prevent their failure
-so why do they still fail?”

Martin Cobb Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
Since 1994 the Standish Group have been producing their Chaos Report. This project “ exposes the overwhelming failure of IT application development projects in today’s MIS environment”

From the 1994 report we can see the core reasons for failure: The factors that cause projects to be challenged were:

Project Challenged Factors

% of Responses

1. Lack of User Input


2. Incomplete Requirements & Specifications


3. Changing Requirements & Specifications


4. Lack of Executive Support


5. Technology Incompetence


6. Lack of Resources


7. Unrealistic Expectations


8. Unclear Objectives


9. Unrealistic Time Frames


10. New Technology




So, what conclusions can be drawn from these many years of research? One broad message is that, despite all the years of innovation and experience that have passed, as Cobb’s paradox suggests, nothing much has changed. What was problem a decade ago is still a problem now. Despite tools, techniques methodologies aplenty, projects still fail and for the same broad set of reasons.

This research clearly points at the major issues in project failure and with consistent results over so many projects over so many years it would seem entirely incontrovertible. There is a common thread in all the results that is concealed behind the detail. At the heart of all project failure is the people. This may seem obvious, after all, projects are conceived by, designed by, built by and used by people. It is clear that this human factor can never be removed from projects but, by understanding the nature of the influence of people on a project, certain key failure points can be targeted and improvements made. At least in part, this is perhaps at least part of the answer to the paradoxical question ‘so why do they still fail?’.

All the great processes and tools cannot make up for the fact that people are at the core of everything we try to do, and if the people aren’t up to it then there isn’t an awful lot you can do about it. Except to look for a saviour.

What this all points at is that there is only one thing you need to get right. Get the right people on your project. You do this by either getting your recruitment right or, within the existing resource pool, making sure you grab the good ones.

The quality of the people at the start of the project sets the upper limit of how well everything can go before all the usual stuff starts to go wrong.

Everything, EVERYTHING you try to do is based on and reliant on people. Get good ones, make sure they are happy, give them space and let them do their thing.

M is for… Mean Value Coefficient

As regular readers will observe, there is much discussion on the central concept of arses and good guys. Some may find this a somewhat vague concept. So, to bring this to life a little, we will introduce the concept of the Mean Value Coefficient.

This is being done for a few reasons:

  • the concept will be used in forthcoming posts, there’s a whole theory to come
  • it is an extension of the nickname concept
  • you just can’t beat a bit of pseudo-science

The concept is very simple:

  1. An individual with an Mean Value Coefficient of 1 has a neutral impact on your project, makes it neither better or worse.
  2. An individual with a coefficient less than 1 has an overall detrimental impact on your project (an arse). The smaller the coefficient, the worse they are.
  3. An individual with a coefficient greater than has improves your project (a good guy). The higher the coefficient, the better they are.

This has a very important use. You can simply refer to people as “MVC 0.5” and only those in the know will know what you are on about. This is sometimes safer than the more traditional “he’s an arse” when you don’t know who might be listening. Generally, people who don’t know what MVC is will be to embarassed to ask. Its also particularly sneaky as MVC means something else too.

N is for… Nicknames

Nicknames aren’t anything new. Some people get them, some don’t. Some last for a while and die away, some stick for life. They can be derogatory, complimentary, used to the person’s face or just behind their back, but very, very rarely, are they planned.

Here’s the deal, everyone should have a nickname that is known within the inner circle of trusted friends. This isn’t just for colleagues, it can be for customers, suppliers, whoever. The point is that it is very useful to be able to talk about people with other people, including the individuals themselves, having no idea who you are on about.

The important thing is that the nicknames can’t be obvious. You can’t call John Smith ‘Smithy‘ or ‘Bitter‘. By way of example, you could call him ‘Garlic‘. See, you have no idea how I came up with that, but there is method to it. Its all about additional degrees of separation.

Above all, nicknames can make every conversation more fun, which is very important.

B is for… Butterfly

The basic rules of prioritisation tell you what is important, what you should do next, what is really important to concentrate on. The butterfly doesn’t follow these rules. They flit from flower to flower on a whim. Quite like the flip-flop, this change of direction can often be as a result of a conversation but it just as easily be something random or forgetful in the nature. Sometimes butterflies just aren’t very organised. The combination of a flip-flip with a butterfly can be a dizzying journey through madness.

Butterflies often follow what they perceive to be important. This can often be what they think will bring them the greatest glory, the topic du jour of senior management, something that will make them sound clever. But usually its just the last thing to pop into their head.

There isn’t that much positive to say about the butterfly other than: if they are chasing you for something that you haven’t done yet, it usually very easy to distract them with something bright and colourful. Like maybe a new pen.

F is for… Flip-Flop

Those of you of an older vintage may remember the flip-flop. A simple logic circuit that can be in one state or another. You get people like that too. Having no clue about anything, they tend not to have any definitive opinion of their own. Instead, they carry about with them the opinion of the last person they discussed a given subject with.

This is generally quite irritating as you can usually have two very different conversations with the same person about the same thing.

“But I thought we had agreed yesterday that the sky was blue?”
“Yes, but I had a meeting with marketing this morning and no I see that it is more of an indigo…”

Fundamentally, such people aren’t much use, but there is much to be exploited here. If these people are in decision making positions and you’d like to them to act in your favour, all you have to do is get to them last. Just make them flip to your way of thinking, make sure no one else talks to them before they enter the crucial meeting and the world is yours.

O is for… Ostrich

You know the type, you probably have some of them in your organisation; when there’s a problem, they bury their head in the sand, usually because it is beyond their capabilities to do anything else.

They will ignore the inevitability of the situation, hoping upon hope that it will go away. Usually until the very last minute, when they will endeavour to get rid of the problem or otherwise attempt to make someone else responsible for their own failure to deliver. This is often too late to do anything effective and even the best endeavour to help out will result in association with the problem.

Best to avoid these people, and if it’s impossible to avoid them, or you have a sneaking feeling that the hospital pass will be coming your way at the end of it all, practice a little coaching on them as an exercise in splash damage limitation.

D is for… Dambuster

You will invariably find, as you go about your trade, many people who will try to put obstacles in your way. You know the sort, those workshy fops that will try to hide behind process, officialdom and “You’ll need to raise a request before I can look at that” or “I can’t do anything about that without a signoff from network security”.

This can slow your project down considerably, especially when you encounter a cluster of process junkies all quoting form numbers and obscure request systems. You can quickly end up being flipped around form department to department like a pinball, especially if you have the audacity to suggest to them, “go on, bend the process just this once”, or worse, “just feckin’ do it!”.

Most red tape is black and white
Most red tape is black and white

Make it your business to understand all of the methods of request, the times to use them and have all the tools installed to allow you to do it. Make contact with the people who are approvers for the various things you will need, eg. security, networks, telephony, sys admin, DBA’s etc.

Then you can use your dambuster skills to quickly and easily break through those process log-jams and achieve what you need with the minimum of disruption to your project.

So, the next time some wastrel of a jobsworth says, “You’ll need to raise form C2634 in triplicate and have the yellow copy signed off by a purple unicorn”, you can be back at his desk 30 seconds later, smiling as you hand it over and say, “So when will it be done?”.

Of course a good-guy would never use process to slow down or prevent progress elsewhere, even for fun. Well, not to another good-guy anyway.

C is for… Competency Mask

Sometimes all is not what it seems. And this is where your powers of observation have to be at their sharpest. Some arses have a competency mask. It can take many forms but what it can do is give the impression to the untrained eye that they might be “OK” or “capable”.

Image courtesy of George Imrie on www.morguefile.com
Surely you’re jesting…

Here are a few things to watch out for:

Yes, as unbelieveable as it seems. Someone well presented can sometimes fool you into thinking they are not an arse. Suit, dress, good looks, tan, whatever it is, might give the appearance of ‘sharpness’. Don’t be fooled, don’t make any judgement until they speak. After all, when they turn round they might have a sticker that says ‘elbow’ on the buttock of their delightfully pressed suit trouser.

Probably the most prevalent of all aspects of the Competency Mask, the language people use can often be a thin veil over an empty head. Modern business language has developed into a bizarre concoction of phrases and cliches that anyone can trot out and, if you are not paying attention, can make you think they sound plausible. Listen again. And, crucially, listen for content. Ask a difficult question and watch as the Competency Mask descends to cover the rapidly appearing glaze over the eyes.

Doing the Easy Stuff Well
Comfort zones are very handy. Especially when you need something to cover up the fact that you never actually contribute. Its simple to spot. Watch for people who quickly and repeatedly volunteer to do the easy stuff (before all the tricky actions are handed out). They sit back “well, I have contributed, I’m going to book the meeting room for the follow-up meeting, maybe I’ll arrange the lunch too, why not, no harm in over-delivering“. They are just doing stuff that anyone could do but getting paid far too much for it.
You see this in document reviews quite a bit, unable to stay quiet, the Competency Mask allows the person to make such massive contributions as suggesting a different font, pointing out problems in the page numbering/footer or suggesting a whole new pagination strategy. Arse.

T is for… Timesheet Collector

They call themselves Project Managers but all they really do is collect timesheets and other such frippery. You need to spot these people quickly and ignore everything they say with regard to delivery as the very fact that they call themselves Project Manager signifies that they are an arse and therefore will not obey the law of silence.

Once you have spotted them, you can have fun with them because they will be constantly scared so ask them tough questions, make them make on the spot decisions and generally wind them up. Obviously, ignoring any responses you may get.