Will you be able to see the Black Swan?

Pity this poor project manager. He never saw the black swan coming.

Couldn’t see it through his magic green colored glasses.

However, projects do not suddenly overrun their budgets by 200% without any warning signs along the way. The following project managment traits are among those that are likely to lead to the epic project failures known as black swans.

  • Logging more new issues than we are closing every week, but the status is still green.
  • Never challenging task owners who keep saying they will have it next week, let’s just slip the due date and keep the status green.
  • Calling the strategy tasks done so we can start logging some effort as complete against all these development tasks, so we can still say we are status green, and % complete is aligned to % budget consumed.
  • Let’s get a conditional signoff on the requirements doc so we can start development as planned on Monday, and stay status green.
  • We’re running out of budget so let’s not provide any training materials, and just give the users a walk through, so we can keep the budget status green.
  • We have a few process workarounds to define, but let’s go live as planned so we can keep the status green.
  • Key stakeholders are unavailable, but let’s change the design anyway so we can stay on schedule and keep the status green. 
  • We’re burning the midnight oil cranking out code, and we need input on a design workaround, but no one is available, so let’s make a unilateral decision so we can keep on schedule and keep the status green. 

While its true that sometimes heroic effort can keep a project on track, it usually takes more than optimism. The true mark of good project management is not  keeping status green in the face of evidence to the contrary, but early identification and escalation of risks so that the executive sponsors and steering committee can make adjustments to scope, budget and timeline in a way that facilitates the path to success.

2 thoughts on “Will you be able to see the Black Swan?

  1. I have noticed this behavior in several projects before. People use the project management system poorly and often forget to, or don’t care to update the entire task/item when something needs to be updated. But I really like that you call this “black swan” it totally describes this situation!

  2. Pingback: Be Interesting or GTFO | Edgewater Blog

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