Monday, February 09, 2009

What are the three phases of a new project?

February 2009 - I'm of the belief there are three phases of a new project - Vanity, Humbleness, and Crisis. Let me explain.

A project starts in the Vanity phase. During Vanity, everyone is overly confident. It's believed the project will be a massive success and will solve all problems that have caused suffering and harm in the past. A common management saying is to "Break down the barriers - we're going to do things different." "Different" is what the project team infers as "better."

Verbose project team members dominate during the Vanity phase. Everyone has a voice and those that enjoy hearing themselves, take control and provide, what they call, "leadership." Myriad documents are produced laying out how the project will work and the problems it will solve. A common output is a Return on Investment (ROI). The ROI is what management will use to secure funding from upper management.

Often during the Vanity phase, new amenities like "free food" or "free pop" are offered as tokens. Off-sites are common. They make the layperson feel important. Moreover, closeness is important during this phase. It's thought that cramming more people into meetings is a benefit. Making people sit closer is seen as a way of promoting knowledge sharing.

The Vanity phase ends when the project requirements start to be realized. You know you're into the Humbleness phase when hard questions start being asked. For example, let's say you're developing a new pop can which provides a tighter seal than the current flip tops. The idea is to have end users open the can with their Boy Scout pocket knife. Sounds great until a layperson asks management how many people carry around pocket knives? At this point, everyone knows they are in the Humbleness phase. Off-sites will diminish and the thought of doing everything different (remember "different" means "better" for new projects) becomes less vogue. In fact, it's during this phase that the term "leverage" comes into play. Management might say "we need to leverage our existing resources."

Humbleness exists until upper management asks for a finite time-line of when the project will be finished. Crisis is next. It's at Crisis, people are finally held responsible. During Vanity there is absolutely no accountability. If a verbose idiot said something erroneous, they were simply brain storming. Back to the new pop can design; "I didn't really mean that a user needed a pocket knife to open the can. I was just tossing out ideas."

Another indicator that the Crisis phase is beginning is, consultants, and/or overly verbose individuals, start leaving the project or being asked to shut up. Crisis is the fun part. You get to see the big important people squirm in their seats. The verbose people are the best. If they are still on the project, their jubilant behavior is whittled to slivers. They sit in their cube, knowing they are overwhelmed with work, and stare into their computer hoping that someone would put an end to the misery.

The Crisis phase ends in one of two ways. The project is cancel by upper management or the project completes and a mediocre product is released to customers. If the product is a modest success, upper management funds phase two, but requests a new set of management. The new management is typically aware of the near failure and avoids and changes that might further damage the product and or their career. They move the project into maintenance mode and hire below average personal to fix bugs and make minor adjustments.