Looking around the room, Trish saw that her presentation was in trouble. Whether it was the slide on risks, or the one on budget, she knew that people were uncomfortable with her projections. The Gang of Six would probably follow Warren's lead, and Warren was unhappy.
Resuming projects is risky,
in part, because we
underestimate the risks
of rebuilding a team"From what I see," he said, "starting from scratch might be better than picking up where we left off. You agree?"
Trish was ready. "The operative word is 'might,'" she began. "Resuming projects isn't our strong suit. Our estimates are soft. So yes, it might be better to start over. And it might not. My estimate is that starting over would cost between 90 and 125% of the cost of resuming. But, then, the result would be cleaner and more current. It's a tough call."
Warren wasn't satisfied. "But how could that be? We've spent — let's see — 8.3? — on this so far! How could it be cheaper to start over? And why can't you answer with a simple 'yes, it will be cheaper' or 'no, it won't'?"
Trish, Warren, and the Gang of Six are struggling with one of the great paradoxes of project management: Resuming a paused project can cost more than starting over. The paradox lies in the conflict between the reality of the paused project and our own mental models of what's involved.
One part of this conflict lies in the special challenge of team formation for a resuming project. For various reasons, team rebuilders usually try to recruit former team members, and that creates special problems. Here are some reasons why:
- Many have difficult memories of the project from the period just before cancellation.
- Many may have "moved on" to success elsewhere in the organization.
- Many are no longer employed within the organization, and even if they're willing to be rehired, rehiring policies often present obstacles.
- Current managers of former team members might not permit them to rejoin the team, or they might attach difficult conditions to their release.
- Selectivity in re-recruiting by team rebuilders can create resentments about the exclusion of some former team members and the inclusion of others.
These factors threaten team morale. Some mitigation tactics are possible:
- Educate the team rebuilders about the difficulties they can expect when they try to reassemble the team, and how to address those difficulties.
- Provide strong, public, and unambiguous support from top management.
- Conduct a retreat for the whole team, facilitated by experts in team re-formation, to deal with the challenges.
When these tactics are available, safe conversations about taboo subjects are possible, and those conversations help overcome any ambivalence about (or opposition to) the resumed project. Without these tactics, you might be resuming not only a project, but a mass of problems, too. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Make a Project Family Album
- Like a traditional family album, a project family album has pictures of people, places, and events.
It builds connections, helps tie the team together, and it can be as much fun to look through as it
is to create.
- Projects as Proxy Targets: I
- Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they
won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
- More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- Retrospectives — also known as lessons learned exercises or after-action reviews — sometimes
miss important insights. Here are some additions to our growing catalog of obstacles to learning.
- Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite
our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep?
- The Planning Dysfunction Cycle
- Some organizations consistently choose not to allocate enough resources or time to planning for their
most complex undertakings. Again and again, they decline to plan carefully enough despite the evidence
of multiple disappointments and chaotic performance. Resource contention and cognitive biases conspire
to sustain this cycle of dysfunction.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 1: The Big Power of Little Words
- Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go. Available here and by RSS on February 1.
- And on February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
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