Darwin Awards

darwin_in_shadesThis is where we can poke fun at ourselves and share some of the funnier experiences we have had in this profession. But before we dive into the details I thought I would add some levity and share some very real experiences that I can only characterize as the Darwin Awards for Project Management.  What are the Darwin awards?  The Darwin Awards salute

“…the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it.”

Sometimes In ways that are spectacularly funny (sometimes tragically funny).  For example the winner this year (from the real Darwin awards):

  • When his 38-caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California, would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.
  • The Ann Arbour News crime column reported that a man walked into a Burger King in Ypsilanti, Michigan, at 5 A.M., flashed a gun, and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn’t open the cash register without a food order. When the man ordered onion rings, the clerk said they weren’t available for breakfast. The man, frustrated, walked away. [*A 5-STAR STUPIDITY AWARD WINNER*]
  • When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find a very sick man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline and plugged his siphon hose into the motor home’s sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges saying that it was the best laugh he’d ever had.

Our intent is not to glorify those who accidently remove themselves from the human genome; nothing this drastic or funny unless you are in this profession. No names, no identifiable marks, just the crazy stuff we have run into that demomstrates the real and urgent need we have to address fundamental blocking and tackling. By illustrating some of what NOT to DO we can continue to help each other escape the “Darwin effect” when and where ever we can and advance the profession one “bonehead” at a time.

I’m now going to share my small contribution to this effort by adding some actual examples I have stumbled over during my career (names and places omitted to protect the innocent <g>) in some of the largest and most respected organizations in the business to include:

Incomplete project plans
Almost all tasks left to default to 1 day (this is the MS Project default). Entire segments (ITIL related production hand-offs) missing.  You just have to shake your head and say wow. You get the idea.

Time and turn-around accounting
I know this sounds silly, but how can we measure progress to plan or earned value without recording effort? A more common problem than you would suspect, this represents a fundamental activity that has to be ingrained and adopted across the organization – without exception.  How do you record Progress Activity, Effort Expended, or Apply Actuals to Schedules? I guess you guess… sounds good to me <g>;

Incomprehensible level of effort
Ratios of generally accepted, time-proven ratios (see the SLIMM or the Boehm Cocomo 2.0 estimation methods) between development activities are not acceptable or don’t make sense. For example Requirements Complete should represent about 22% – 28% of total effort – so if activities up to Requirements Complete actuals are around 250 hours, then we would normally expect approximately 1,000 (use 25% / 250 hours = 1,000) hours in the total project, not 600 (like schedules I have seen). By contrast, this should mean everything up to Requirements complete be no more than 150 hours total effort. In one case testing activities was well under the normal 30% of effort as expected (averaging less than 2.5%). No reasonable explanation was provided in this case to reconcile the anomaly.   Wonder why? I think you already know why this is the case.

Sequencing Errors
I have actually seen Define and Estimate tasks for functional requirements sign-off by the customer planned to occur ONE day before the project is scheduled to complete.  Is this acceptable? Sure if your zip code is someplace on Mars.

Reliable Estimates (are you kidding?)
After initial review, one schedule I reviewed was reworked by the project manager, resubmitted and the original estimate extended from approximately 96 days to 196 days – without a corresponding increase in costs. New math, I guess.

Fundamental blocking and tackling (lets use spreadsheets!)
In many cases I have seen first-hand lack of fundamental skills (manipulation of task types, resource allocations, and calendars), in addition to misunderstanding the more useful features of the planning product (resource leveling, use of maxunits to restrict resource effort).  Worse, believe it or not where the use of professional project management tools is not mandated many projects plans are prepared and managed with spreadsheet software. Want to guess where this will take you (apologies to Microsoft marketing)?

Compensate for planning failures – Another PPM tool, anyone?
Closely related cousin to the fundamental blocking and tackling award is the PPM tool puzzle or the “big red easy button“. All we need is a better tool and then we’ll have bigredeasy1better project plans. Right… The tool will solve our resource capacity issues, identify our dependencies, and heck, even facilitate the cross functional conversations for us.  We’ll simply upload our spreadsheet-based milestone level schedules and tomorrow they’ll be more detailed, resource loaded, fully socialized with our stakeholders, and miraculously fit within the program timeframe.  (It’s that easy, right?)  Tools cannot replace the detailed planning effort.  I’ve learned to be on the look out for this kind of thinking if the tool is being considered for adoption when the organization is just not ready for it.

We love reinventing the wheel
When a global best practice standard exists…why not use it?  For example, project management maturity models have existed for years yet how many enagagements have you found where the company itself had created its own model to solve for “unique PM challenges”.  Really?  Apparently we believe successful project management practices have nothing to do with generally accepted best practices.

Please feel free to leave your funny (or not) experiences in the comments section as we begin to collect and organize what I hope will become a light-hearted and useful tool to help you (and others) in this profession  make out lives a little more rewarding; and fun.

2 responses

10 04 2011

Hi … I have one. I have seen it, time and time again, in what may be “perceived” as premiere organizations: No fundamental understanding, by very Senior Management, as to the difference between a “Program” and a “Project.” What I mean is that there is a tendency to call something a Project when, in effect, it’s a Program and needs to be structured as such! (e.g., no definitive end date and say, it is no doubt a “series” of projects …) More importantly, once enlightened about this delineation, Senior Management still doesn’t buy-in or express any kind of interest in the delineation. I lament!

10 04 2011

ALERT! Here’s a another potential Darwin Award: 85% of schedule creators have no understanding of the primary MS Project equation: work = duration/resource units. Compounding this is literally no understanding, nor desire to learn, the MS Project task types: 1.) fixed units; 2.)fixed work; and, 3.) fixed duration. You can’t do MS Project without some understanding, much less allocate resources and create accurate plans! I have seen this on MANY multi-million dollar projects. My findings? “If it takes longer than 15 minutes, most people don’t want to mess with it.” I am curious how those “in-the-know” handle this brute fact?

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