Is your project going to hit the buffers?

Blog 27-04-2021

1. RAG Status has always been green.

For projects that have been running for a reasonable amount of time, it is normal to expect the overall RAG status to move from Green to Amber or Red as events happen that put the delivery of the project at risk. Projects are, by definition, unique endeavours so it is not uncommon for projects to have warning lights (Amber) or more serious warning lights (RED). If you review the history of a project and, over many months, the overall RAG and the underlying sub-RAGS are always Green, this can be a sign that the project is at risk. A constant Green rating could mean 1 of 3 things:

a) The project manager does not recognize that genuine risks to the project exist.
b) The project manager recognizes that project delivery is at risk but chooses to hide the fact from the Sponsor and key stakeholders.
c) The Project is being brilliantly managed and controlled by the project manager.

In my experience, a constant Green RAG status is usually down to a) or b) and therefore an indication that your project is at risk of failure.

2. The Project Sponsor does not know he or she is the Project Sponsor!

The Project Sponsor is the individual with overall accountability for the project. He/She is primarily concerned with ensuring that the project delivers the agreed business benefits. The Project Sponsor acts as the representative of the organisation, and plays a vital leadership role through: providing ‘championship’ for the project and selling the project throughout the organisation. The sponsor is also there to unblock blockages to the project and allocate more resources, if required. In almost every survey on the underlying causes of project failure; the number one cause is lack of effective sponsorship. It is therefore logical that if the sponsor is not aware he or she is the sponsor or, what is more typical, that the sponsor does not understand their role, the project is at risk of failing.

3. The Project Manager cannot explain what a good project outcome would be.

Sometimes the simple and obvious questions are the best ones to understand what is really happening. I like to ask project managers: ‘So what are you trying to achieve with this project?’ If I get a succinct answer in terms of the benefits and outcome for the organization, I gain confidence in the project manager and the focus of the project delivery team. Alternatively, if I get a long-winded and rambling answer, my confidence starts to wane. Confidence collapses if the project manager says that the outcome of the project is delivery of an IT system. Projects are all about delivering change so if the change management aspects of a project are not addressed, the probability of project failure is high.

Summary

I have conducted many project and programme reviews which are more in-depth investigations than the three points detailed. However, with project reviews, you can very quickly understand if a project is on track or heading for the buffers. The rest of the project review is typically gathering the evidence to back up your initial findings.

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