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Project management reimagined: strategies for project success

Understanding, Identifying, and Avoiding Problem Causes:
A Guest Article by IT and Project Specialist Peter Burgey.

Peter Burgey
21.05.2024 | 5 min reading time

portfolio and demand management

skill and resource management

project management tools

risk management

Project planning

In this article, our guest author Peter Burgey addresses a topic that project managers would often like to avoid: Risks, crises and target-actual deviations in project management. But of course he also shows how you can best deal with project risks or avert them even before they arise. Ready to face crises in projects and master them proactively? Then read on!

Risk Management Header EN

I bet that your project is behind schedule

In the book "Bear Tango," a treatise on risk management for projects, author Timothy Lister makes a bet with the reader: He wagers that the reader is behind on his current project, even though he knows nothing about the reader's project. And then Lister explains why, in most cases, he will win his bet. Unfortunately, almost all surveys about project success prove the author right.

In the dynamic world of project work, crises are inevitable. They can be triggered by a variety of factors, from unforeseen challenges to internal misunderstandings. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), 14% of IT projects fail completely, and 43% exceed their original budget. Standish Group's 2015 figures paint an even bleaker picture. This is despite the fact that we know more about project management than ever before. And have far better methods and tools at our disposal.

In 1995, Martin Cobb, then CIO of a U.S. financial agency, made the following statement:
"We know why projects fail. We know what to do about it. So why do projects fail?"
The main reasons, in my experience, are:

  • Lack of transparency: Not all topics are put on the table.
  • Blind spot: Important topics are - unintentionally - left out.
  • Dominance: Critical topics are taboo.
  • Optimism: Topics are underestimated.
  • Subjectivity: People do not act rational.
  • Diversity: Projects have become so complex that it is not possible to proactively manage all important topics.


And yet it works!

But what if there is a structured, holistic approach to identifying and managing such crises? What does it achieve?

  • Reliability: Costs and deadlines are in the green zone from start to finish.
  • Constructiveness: If the first deviations become apparent, they are analyzed together and solutions are sought.
  • Openness: All topics may be addressed - and are.
  • Common ground: Everyone is working together. And in the same direction.
  • Mood: There is a positive atmosphere in the team. Every opinion counts and everyone contributes as best they can to achieving the goal.

This holistic approach must not only take into account the project work itself, but also all influencing factors, starting with the definition of the project scope, through project control, the project environment, to operations and the operating model.

Turn your enemy into a friend!

So if it's not feasible to manage all the important issues so that the project gets to the finish line well, then it's a matter of turning the tables. Let's just assume from the outset that something will go wrong. The only question is what it is in each case. And when it occurs.
So let's proceed as follows:

  1. Analysis: We need a picture of the situation. The following questions are of most interest:
    What is costing us time?
    What costs us money?
    What is costing us quality?
  2. Evaluation: What is the impact of the problem points we have identified?
  3. Prioritization: Depending on the framework conditions, in one project the deadlines are most important, in the next the costs and in the one after that both are equally critical. Accordingly, we need to focus on the prioritized issues.
  4. Developing solutions: Solutions are developed to the prioritized topics and everyone comitted to do their part.

Sounds simple. So why doesn't everyone do it? Because it's not that simple:

  • Holism: You always have to evaluate all topics. Otherwise you will overlook something. For this, you need a complete checklist of all relevant topics.
  • Openness: To counteract the fear of telling an unpleasant truth, you need the protection of anonymity.
  • 360°: All affected groups need to be at the table (project leadership, management, stakeholders). The issues on which these groups have different opinions are almost more important than those on which everyone agrees. This analysis entails organizational effort.
  • Methodology: For all 4 steps of the above procedure, you need to know exactly what you are doing, with what goal and also how.

The normal case is the daily occupation with the deviation between target and actual value

This approach seems anything but simple. Holism, anonymity, participation of various stakeholder groups: It's not something that can be done in passing. And that's not what I was talking about.

In my experience, companies are more willing to invest millions in rescuing a crisis project or even to abandon a project completely and thus lose far more than this amount, rather than investing a 4- or 5-digit amount to prevent the crisis from happening in the first place.

Admittedly, the approach described above is not trivial and therefore only suitable for projects above a certain size. I would put 500 PT as the limit where it is massively worthwhile. It needs to be tool-based to ensure anonymity and provide appropriate analysis capabilities. In addition, a tool brings the possibility that the participants do not have to be in the same meeting at the same time. Furthermore, it can be designed to be scalable:

  • The list of topics queried can be adapted in various ways to the situation, size and type of project.
  • The result can vary from the statement great/low/no need for action to a one-pager with the most important analyses at a glance to an interactive detailed analysis of the problem situation with, if necessary, a roadmap for finding a solution downstream.

All in all, this gives the project team the opportunity to address the current situation in a decided and targeted manner.

pro:accel - avert project crises before they occur!

One tool that offers these possibilities is pro:accel. It has an extensive questionnaire to include all relevant topics.

The online questionnaire offers anonymity. Only the assignment of each participant in an evaluation to one of the 3 groups project team, manager and stakeholder serves to determine in the context of the analysis whether there are serious differences between these groups on certain topics.

The analysis - which is currently still moderated - not only provides the retrospective view to identify what is potentially burning time or money, but also directly ensures, with a simulation option, that one can see how the impact of existing risks on costs, deadlines, etc. will change if certain issues are addressed and eliminated in whole or in part. 

This provides a tool for navigating a project out of or around crises.

By the way: Preferential conditions are available for Can Do users. For details and your personal offer please send me an e-mail: peter.burgey@pro-accel.de.

I am also happy to answer your questions about pro:accel in particular or about the methodological approaches listed above in general!


About the author

Peter Burgey has been working in leading IT positions (CIO, Head of IT) for more than 30 years. Since 2001 he has been self-employed - with 2 small interruptions. His focus is on crisis projects and crisis situations in the IT sector. From management to avoidance and prevention.
He learned the IT business from scratch. After studying computer science in Karlsruhe, he worked at Daimler through the stages from application developer to head of an IT department. Peter Burgey then built up central SAP coordination at Bosch and took on the role of CIO in the Power Tools business unit as divisional manager. In 2001 came the step into self-employment as a consultant and later as an interim manager.
Peter Burgey has lived in the Stuttgart area for 35 years. He is married for the second time, has 2 grown-up children and a granddaughter. He enjoys cooking and usually accompanies it with a good wine from his home region, the Palatinate. He clears his head by walking/hiking and cycling, and then devotes himself to his tasks with passion and determination.


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