Projects that have been pushed into the background due to the corona pandemic should be subjected to a project review. This guide shows which steps are then necessary for a possible revival. […]
Last year was marked in many companies by the handling of the corona crisis. Large parts of the workforce were sent to the home office where possible. Task forces at all levels ensured that operational business operations were not endangered. Projects for change and transformation, if they did not have a direct corona reference and were not already “frozen” anyway, took a back seat. For some projects, this has catastrophic consequences: Because after the corona crisis is before the project crisis (or you are already in the middle of it).
The first hurdle to jump over is the recognition and admission that a project has gone wrong in the first place. This is often a challenge, especially due to decentralized work in the home office. In many projects, the fear of “red” prevails. Project managers want to show management that they have a project under control. Therefore, in status reports, yellow or even green traffic light colors are very often shown instead of “red” traffic lights. The deadline for the delivery or production of software is still a long way off. And as long as the budget is not used up, there is still scope for design. The statement of a project manager, whose project has completely hit the wall in many facets, is best: “The traffic light is actually not yellow but dark yellow”.
The worse the situation, the more attempts are made to sweep under the carpet. Thus, the hurdle to “red lights” is getting higher and higher and milestones are regularly postponed further in order to supposedly gain enough time to solve the problems. Unfortunately, more time will soon be devoted to excuses and cover-ups than to solving the problems that are piling up.
Such an ever-delaying IT project with green lights can easily be misinterpreted by top management: the project team is caught in perfectionism and does not dare to enter the market with the supposedly good product. In the best of intentions, the management now “helps” by forcing a speedy go live.
Although the risk and the approximate extent of the disaster resulting from the Go Live is foreseeable, the project team does not dare to contradict, because the formerly small white lie is now too big. In such conflict situations, it is a normal Reflex to displace problems. “It will be fine” becomes the mantra and the ostrich the secret project mascot.
In many cases, however, it does not even come to the Go Live. Instead, the project” stalled ” in the spheres of the corona pandemic or is stopped with unclear target achievement. The motto “Doctor, help yourself” here does not usually stop working-there is a need for objective consideration of the situation by independent third parties. The need for renovation, the ability to renovate as well as any necessary changes must be assessed taking into account the specific causes. It is not a question of putting the “black peter” on someone, but of finding a way out of the situation that is acceptable to all parties involved.
In the event that the project is fundamentally worth renovating and the goals associated with its implementation are still being pursued, it is important to look ahead and get the turnaround. However, as a basis for a turnaround strategy with options for action, one should nevertheless also understand what the actual causes of the symptoms are. Otherwise, the probability is high that after the new attachment is equal to the worm already in the apple. On the basis of the findings, substantive and strategic options for action along the short – and medium-term goals are to be developed and evaluated. For a rescue package as a result of a review, a procedure in four steps is recommended:
1. Data collection and document analysis
For a first inventory, all documents created during the project period must be provided in a collected form. These include, in particular, documents documenting project governance, scope and planning, possible solutions already discussed and the development of the project (status reports, steering committee documents, decision logs, escalations). The assessment of what is important and what is not should be left to the party responsible for the review-otherwise there is a risk of BIAS limiting objectivity.
2. In-depth interviews, Software Process Analytics and root cause analysis
In the next step, it is recommended to conduct personal and confidential interviews with participants at all hierarchical levels of the parties involved in order to collect further information. Here, no too tight corset should be given with regard to the content, but rather the interviewees can first report freely of their impressions. As a result, respondents often provide information that would not have come to light with targeted questions.
It is only in the second step that it makes sense to look at the results that have already been worked out. This may also include an analysis of the software developed for a long time to objectify the situation and turn on the “light”. Digital analysis platforms form the basis for this. At least, the underlying software processes should be analyzed with the help of process mining, for example. Qualitative information from interviews as well as quantitative insights from the results analysis provide the input for the identification of the causes that led to the current situation.
3. Evaluation and derivation of options for action
For the experienced eye of a professional project reviewer and on the basis of a project review framework leading the analysis, the collected information results in a pattern of the causes of the crisis and it can be defined at which points it is necessary to start from a project management point of view. Typically, these can be assigned to the following subject areas:
- Communication and stakeholder management
- Project objectives, scope and requirements
- Project management and procedure
- The project team, resources, and organization
- Project result types (requirements, architecture, code, test cases, …)
In most cases, the options for action in terms of content also arise from the information collected, because the basic scope of possible solutions is usually limited and has often already been discussed in detail. Often, there is only a lack of an objective and structured comparison for evaluation and an outlook with regard to time planning and costs of the individual options.
4. Development of a Turnaround strategy
If the basic content options are available, it is decided in the selected group of participants and moderated from “outside” which content path to take. Depending on the situation, it may be useful to carry out an upstream feasibility study on one or more options before you return to full force gen implementation and Golive strive. With regard to the root cause analysis from a project management point of view, personnel decisions have to be made in most cases.
Against this background and on the basis of a healthy error culture, appropriate measures should be discussed and implemented discreetly and not in the “big round”. Because open “bashing” is not only unpleasant for the affected persons, but also does not help to solve the existing problem in retrospect – rather, it creates a culture of fear among the remaining or the new project members and motivates new emerging problems to sweep them under the carpet again after new essay.
Objectivity and experience are essential success factors for a project review because critical project processes do not leave the people involved untouched – often contrary opinions or agendas prevail. Therefore, it is worthwhile to have the review carried out by a neutral, preferably uninvolved party. In addition to a neutral view, the experience in the renovation of IT-based projects counts here. In comparison with the cost of the project, the investment is worth it. By the way: if you want to proactively prepare, you can check the condition through periodic “health checks”, especially for larger projects and also for green traffic lights. In this way, a crisis can be prevented at an early stage.
* Oliver Laitenberger heads the Competence Center Digitization and Technology at the management consultancy Horn & Company.