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:
- Restarting Projects
- When a project gets off track, we sometimes cancel it. But since canceling projects takes a lot of courage,
we look for ways to save them if we can. Often, things do turn out OK, and at other times they don't.
There's a third choice, between pressing on with a project and canceling it. We can restart.
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: III
- Some of what we "know" about managing projects just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of
project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: II
- Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges
that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.
- When Change Is Hard: II
- When organizational change is difficult, we sometimes blame poor leadership or "resistance."
But even when we believe we have good leadership and the most cooperative populations, we can still
encounter trouble. Why is change so hard so often?
- How We Waste Time: II
- We're all pretty good at wasting time. We're also fairly certain we know when we're doing it. But we're
much better at it than we know. Here's Part II of a little catalog of time wasters, emphasizing those
that are outside — or mostly outside — our awareness.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.