How many of your projects have failed? This series of two blog posts from Tony Boobier shares tricks of the trade to succeed at projects or programme management.

Why would I dare suggest that your projects may have failed? Well research by Couchbase has shown that 9 out of 10 Digital Transformation  projects fail. So, given how long IT teams have been working at managing projects, it’s to be expected that many data or analytics projects fail too.

In this series, Tony shares his experience of what made the difference. Apparently he authored this over a glass or two of wine – so let’s indulge some self congratulation at the start! Over to cheery Tony…

Learning from experience – tricks of the trade

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of being the Programme Director for a major transformation project for a well-known company.

I call it a ‘pleasure’ as so many projects and programmes don’t deliver on time or to budget, and I’m delighted to say that this one did. So, I’m delighted (at Paul’s invitation) to share a few tricks of the trade that I picked up along the way.

Tricks of the trade: (1) Managing the Mission

My role as Programme Director was not only to manage the programme, but to manage ‘the mission’. That is, to effectively communicate the vision, how it was to be done, and be the Ambassador for the programme.

I knew that I couldn’t do all the work myself, but figured out that if I could effectively manage the mission, then those involved would all, at least, be facing the same way. They would be trying to achieve the same objectives.

If you manage the mission properly, generally all the rest seems to fall into place.

Tricks of the trade: (2) Breaking down the task

The programme was complex with multiple internal and external stakeholders, not all happy with what was being asked of them.

We decided to break down this complex programme into a series of interconnected and interdependent projects. That’s a fairly well established approach, but I wanted to take this further, by making it all personal.

Tricks of the trade: (3) Making it Personal

I wanted to break down the task to a level that I understood it personally, and I encouraged my team to do the same.

The programme was all about cost saving, and in front of my desk I pinned a paper with a number on it. I can’t remember the figure now, it might have been £150k, which represented the total saving required from the programme.

Before you’re surprised that number is so small, that is the target translated into a daily basis saving, over the life of the transformation. The figure was large, but it was still tangible.

At the end of each day I would ask myself: “What did I do today to achieve that saving figure?

Tricks of the trade: (4) Good Project Management software

It’s a bit of a technical issue, but the fact that we used a good project management system and an established methodology made a difference. I think.

I have become increasingly attracted by collaborative software, which is gaining traction. This is especially true as the nature of leadership is changing. From being a flag-waving figure, to becoming a function which moves between individuals.

Tricks of the trade – really?

I know a lot of this is ‘motherhood and apple pie’, and students of project management will recognise some of the techniques.

If I was running the same programme today, I probably would have made better use of social media – perhaps a WhatApp group. Maybe with a large project I might also have used video.

But this wouldn’t have been accidental, but rather part of a planned communication project, as a subset of the overall programme. More on communication & the thorny issue of stakeholders next time…

Tricks of the trade – which do you use?

Thanks to Tony for those useful prompts to our own thinking. Hopefully that post was brief enough to get you thinking, without being prescriptive.

Which trick resonated with you? Have any reminded you of what worked for you (or brought back bad memories of project mistakes)? I’d love to hear from you.

We all learn from failure, so let’s share. Let us do our part to encourage continual learning & improvement at running projects. This is even more important as I see more data & analytics teams being kept parts of transformation projects.

For me, I know that I have in the past failed to keep an eye on the mission or translate those big benefit numbers into something personal. That can led to a ‘heads down’ delivery of functioning parts, but without fulfilling what the businesses really needed.

What’s your project confession? (Absolution available)