Perils of “Ongoing” Projects | TechWell

Perils of “Ongoing” Projects

Perils of “Ongoing” Projects

Projects, by definition, should have clearly defined goals, schedule targets, and resource allocations. When projects are described as “ongoing” that is often a red flag suggesting that either this isn’t a project, or it is not being well-managed.

A project management friend recently started a job with a new employer. We were chatting the other day, and she described her frustration getting her arms around an “ongoing” project. The project, replacing analog telephone equipment (PBX and phones) in 250 locations, had started six years earlier. About a third of the buildings had been completed. The telecom team had continued to muddle along as their time allowed. There was no schedule, no target dates for completion, and status reporting had devolved into, “We’re hoping to get building X next month.”

We discussed strategies to get a better handle on resources, progress, and schedules. If there was ever a charter explaining the scope, why’s, and priorities of the project, it had been lost to posterity years ago. I tried to console her by observing that the executive team that would have approved that charter had probably died or moved on to other duties anyway.

The project manager thought that the project could be completed more quickly, if that was desirable, by bringing in contractors to augment the telecom team, but without a target in mind and clarity on priorities, that recommendation might be a waste of time. She believed her priorities were to charter or re-charter the project and re-involve the current relevant stakeholders and wondered how that would play out with the management team.

I suggested a stealthy approach: Hold “The Annual Project Status Meeting” (it might be the first annual—but people may not remember that) and use that as an opportunity to identify the current stakeholders and get their attention. At that meeting, she could propose chunking the project into multiple “phases”—of perhaps six-to-twelve-month chunks and revisiting with the group their priorities for which buildings should go first. Historically, the telecom group had done 1-1.5 buildings per month, so once the list was somewhat sorted, she could use that assumption to define the phases from the prioritized list of buildings and communicate a crude idea of what would happen and when.

Quick math would suggest it will be another 10 years before the project is complete at its current pace. That revelation is likely to spur a discussion about whether that is an acceptable timeline. If so, she can now report more focused status on the current phase as it is executed. If the executive team expressed an interest in accelerating the timeline, she could offer the option of adding contracting resources to augment the current team.

“Ongoing” projects can be a nightmare for project managers and an opportunity for disaster for the sponsoring organization. A project-oriented culture offers several advantages:

  • It provides organizations with the change to periodically reassess whether a project remains the best use of resources today.
  • It provides milestones for monitoring and tracking progress.
  • It encourages ongoing conversations about prioritization and trade-offs.
  • It helps to set and sustain user expectations.

Beware the “ongoing” project. Consider working with stakeholders to break them into well-defined chunks to improve definition, prioritization, tracking, and reporting.

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