In the Middle of a Failing Project

Projects do fail, fall apart, go bad, sour.  Projects don’t always always go well – at least for most of us less than perfect PMs, regardless of our skills, training and experience. Often the reasons why are outside our control, sometimes we are directly responsible. Sometimes we are back in middle school and on that basketball team that never wins a game, with that unlikable Mr. Wise as coach, yelling, shaking his head, never having fun. The guy that disliked you too. 

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’
— Eleanor Roosevelt

#PMI does’t provide a good compass and map for us to use and follow during turbulent times, they don't even give us some encouragement. Their message is different. I have always been perplexed on the organization’s poor treatment of human and organizational psychology in the documentation that they call A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). “Weak” being an understatement. Basketball camp was the same way, they never taught you how to be on a losing team and help turn it around. To be fair to PMI, a guide that promises to contain the entire body of knowledge on even a bug in the back yard is going to have to be brief on many topics, if you really expect to gather all of the knowledge up in your arms and throw it into a short document structured with inputs and outputs.  


Nevertheless, I guess we all know resilience is one of those things we need to draw on when things are going badly in the project world and we don't need the Project Management Institute to tell us that. We also sort of know that in the process of kick-starting our resilience we need to cultivate that resilience and get it ready again for those future projects. We know it will happen again, as long as we do anything in life. Those future projects that are going to feel like the one we are managing right now, the one that feels stuck up against a rock in the river's current, with dark clouds moving in above that are about to burst open. With real people expecting results, waiting on us, judging progress. This is what we need, resilience, more than tools and techniques  -  when the project is under the line of despair. When we can't lift, but it still needs to be completed and that finish milestone is way at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel.


The 6 Steps to Turning Setbacks Into Advantages

The 6 Steps to Turning Setbacks Into Advantages

“Unless estimates are partially derived with proven technique they are nothing less than a WAG” – Ray Coker

If you are an expert and you know, you know. But on a lot of our project activities or work packages, we don’t “know” the cost, effort or duration so we estimate. If we estimate based on our experience and or memory, regardless of how expert we might actually be, it typically is nothing more than WAG – a Wild-Ass Guess.

And as a side note, there is nothing wrong with saying ass in a blog, even in the Old Testament, “Judah got on is ass and rode away.”

Most people put a S in front of WAG to form SWAG. The S can refer to what ever makes sense in your situation, it could be Scientific, Statistical, Stupid, Simple, Silly, Sophisticated, etc.

Wikipedia says this about the use of SWAG:

SWAG is used to describe an estimate derived from a combination of factors including past experience, general impressions, and heuristic or approximate calculations rather than an exhaustive search, proof, or rigorous calculation. The SWAG is an educated guess but is not regarded as the best or most accurate estimate.[2] The SWAG is not computed or proven rigorously, but the proponent asserts his or her own judgement suffices to rationalize the estimate; and it may, in time, be viable to produce a rigorous forecast of increased precision.

Years ago the Army web site told the history of popular military acronyms. WAG is an old military term, the website claimed, and it goes all the way back to when two armies would face off against each other on the battlefield. The evening before the big battle, the story goes, the general of the army is walking among the troops and comes across a private preparing himself for what he thinks he needs to do before battle and the general, almost absently asks the private, “Son, how strong is the enemy going to be tomorrow?” The private thinks to himself, “How the hell would I know, they have been keeping that a secret.” But he is under a lot of pressure to respond because he is being asked to provide an estimate by a very powerful person. The Army website then stated, “It is not recommended to use WAG with senior officers.” The why was not provided because it is obvious that WAG can lead to disastrous consequences.

Don't give a senior officer doesn't work in the military, it doesn't work on projects

Don't give a senior officer doesn't work in the military, it doesn't work on projects

WAG doesn’t work in the military and it doesn’t work in project management. See blog post on:  Estimating is what you do when you don’t know. ~ Sherman Kent

What was the rationale for the Iraq War? Some experts claim the Bush administration fabricated reasons for a war it wanted, this may or may not be true, but at the very least, the invasion was based on WAG. Even Colin Powell, long after his presentation to the United Nations Security Counsel, stated that he was at the Pentagon every day and no one told him the information he was presented with wasn’t factual. Frontline states in an article called, “Colin Powell: U.N. Speech ‘Was a Great Intelligence Failure'” that Powells’s speech…

…to the United Nations, laying out the Bush administration’s rationale for war in Iraq, is a “blot” on his record. The speech set out to detail Iraq’s weapons program, but as the intelligence would later confirm, that program was nonexistent.

“Blot on his record.” What an understatement. Thousand of US personnel killed, and an estimate by university researchers in the United States, Canada and Baghdad in cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Health suggests the Iraqi death toll is as high as 500,000. Not including all of the lives ruined, the injured and all of the suffering. 

In addition, the financial cost of the Iraq War is 1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in war veteran benefits that could grow to $6, trillion in the next 40 years.

WAG – simply avoid it, it doesn’t provide value and it can lead to serious consequences in any context.

Huge cost to the American tax paper and huge loss of life

Huge cost to the American tax paper and huge loss of life