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:
- Seeing Through the Fog
- When projects founder, we're often shocked — we thought everything was moving along smoothly.
Sometimes, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that we had — or could have had — enough
information to determine that trouble was ahead. Somehow it was obscured by fog. How can we get better
at seeing through the fog?
- The Politics of the Critical Path: I
- The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest
completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political
- Publish an Internal Newsletter
- If you're responsible for an organizational effort with many stakeholders, communicating with them is
important to success. Publishing an internal newsletter is a great way to keep them informed.
- Symbolic Self-Completion and Projects
- The theory of symbolic self-completion holds that to define themselves, humans sometimes assert indicators
of achievement that either they do not have, or that do not mean what they seem to mean. This behavior
has consequences for managing project-oriented organizations.
- Unresponsive Suppliers: II
- When a project depends on external suppliers for some tasks and materials, supplier performance can
affect our ability to meet deadlines. How can communication help us get what we need from unresponsive
See also Project Management for more related articles.
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- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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.