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Project Management Case Study – Max Wideman’s Custom Woodworking Case Study – Part 5

August 8, 2010

Before proceeding, you should read Project Management Case Study – Max Wideman’s Custom Woodworking Case Study – Part 1,  Part 2Part 3 and Part 4.

After an extended change of scenery, I am back to reviewing the Custom Woodworking Case Study by Max Wideman.  We were working through the plan, now we have moved on to the design phase of the project.

As the design phase is starting, Moneysworth, the project manager, has determined that he needs assistance.  So he acquires the services of Leadbetter, a talented engineer with little project management knowledge and experience.  The project continues on for a short time when a major change project scope occurs.  (though without an approved scope document, that is open to interpretation)  The VP of Production, Miles Faster, determines the production capacity train should be increased, which in turn requires changes to the software.  As the prime candidate to write the updates, Leadbetter is diverted from his Project Management duties to do the programming updates.  No reviews or approvals were done, nor was there any communication with the other stakeholders.  People went on vacation, and  communication broke down even further and delays occurred.

Wow, it is watching a train wreck in slow motion.  It is not one particular action that causes a project to fail, rather the combined effect of many actions.  In this case study, each of the “bad” decisions or lack of adherence to best practices is enough to torpedo the project, but when you add them all together, it makes for a horrible mess.  Sometimes it seems like it would be better if every time you made a bad decision, or skipped a key step, an alarm went off.  When we do these things and there are no immediate negative consequences, we are lulled into a false sense of security that “it will be okay”.  Meanwhile, the whole project is unraveling, one painful strand at a time.

Some recommendations/thoughts regarding the design portion of this case study:

  • Do not assume that because someone is skilled at a particular task, they will automatically/immediately be good at everything else you might assign to them.  We call this the “Halo Effect” and it is blatantly unfair to all involved.  While it is great to build enrichment into a job and promote advancement, everyone should be given appropriate training for new positions.  Sink or swim is not an effective training method, especially for Project Managers.  Successful, effective Project Management requires different skill sets than other roles on a team.  It is great to have a Project Manager with subject matter expertise, but if they do not have the knowledge and skills need to manage the project, they will fail and so will the project.
  • You can not be an effective Project Manager and an effective subject matter expert/team member at the same time.  NO, YOU CANNOT!  Sorry, I have yet to see this work and I include my own experiences in that declaration.
  • If you are going to change direction in the middle of a project, those changes must be documented, reviewed and approved.  If you did not start with a solid baseline, this is going to be a “quicksand” task for you.  Remember without an established baseline, you cannot accurately identify where and what changes need to be made.
  • Communication – show me any problem with a project or program and it almost always could have been averted or minimized by improved communication.  Communication problems are the leading cause of project and program failure.  No amount of subject matter expertise can substitute for effective and efficient communication.

Onward to construction!

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