What Is Your Destiny?

In my last blog I asked readers to comment on the core reasons for project failure. Well having waded through the flood of 10 responses (thank you all) here is what you said. Projects were split 50:50 between manufacturing and transactional with improving satisfaction levels and reducing costs the main objectives. But what I was principally after were the reasons for project failure. These I have classified into three groups.

The first two reasons were project issues (scope, time-frame, resources) and external events. But the main reason offered for project failure was buy-in from your management and colleagues. I was left thinking, “this is not enough”, I was looking for a root-cause. Why did they no have management buy-in? Could it be poor communications, lack of alignment to strategic objectives, insufficient benefits, manager moving job?

I was reminded of a story from one of the Star Trek films, can’t remember which one. When Captain Kirk was in star academy training there was a practical exercise all students had to do. The exercise was designed so you always failed no matter what strategy you applied. So when it was Captain Kirk’s turn he flew his spaceship hundreds of parsecs in the opposite direction and so completely avoided theexercise and certain failure. Could the same be applied? Could you predict project failure in the first place? Well possibly.

I researched the Internet only to produce no clear answer. It was my MBB who hit the spot with an article from the Harvard Business Review. A recent study of a few hundred change projects had identified the key dimensions that describe project success & failure. The dimensions being:

  • D – Duration between formal project reviews (toll-gates?)
  • I – Integrity and skills of the project team
  • C1 – Commitment and support of senior management
  • C2 – Commitment and support of people affected in the process
  • E – Effort required beyond the normal day-to-day work
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Score your project from 1 (Best) to 4 (Worst) in each dimension and use the formulae:

DICE Score = D + 2 * I + 2 * C1 + C2 + E

A score between 7 and 14 means you are likely to succeed, anything over 14 should ring the alarm bells. The original research came out of Boston Consulting Group. So if past experience can be used as a predictor for future performance it may be worth a look. I have started to score my project initiatives to see if it works.

Still no nearer the true underlying root-causes for lack of commitment and support. Good luck with all your projects!

Comments 4

  1. Six Sigma Trekkie

    The no-win scenario that Captain Kirk faced while at Starfleet Academy is called the Kobayashi Maru and was first told in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Captain Kirk, however, did not avoid the situation to win; he innovated and did something that no one had ever done before: He reprogrammed the simulation so that there was a way to win. Captain Kirk never accepts failure and never runs from a battle.

    As Six Sigma captians and ensigns we should not accept project failure either, even if it seems imminent. If a project is doomed before you even start, redefine/rescope it and make it succeed. Don’t run from failures like a frantic Ferengi, do as the brave Captain and innovate your way out of them.

  2. Robin Barnwell

    Thanks for this, it was a long time ago when I saw the film. Live long and prosper.

  3. Bhard

    After helping to lead my company’s CI efforts with Lean and Six Sigma, I also began to wonder what made some succeed and others struggle. I was in agreement with the causes you stated but I believe the root cause comes from proper project selection. The projects need to focus on “monsters” that everyone sees and agrees are problems. They need to be aligned to major customer or strategic issues.

    If they are, then management will commit skilled resources, give them the time they need, and want to be updated on the progress. The everyday worker will also support this because it will make their lives easier. You will also get the benefit that all improvement options will be on the table, there will be no “Sacred Cows” which will ensure maximum gain. My company was “pushed” into smaller, quicker projects for CI. I was in support of this initially, but saw that this led to “quota setting” of projects, which led to some poor project selections and we saw our projects struggle more even with Mgt reviews of progress.

  4. Robin Barnwell

    Exactly, selecting and starting the "wrong" projects can seriously impact a lean sigma deployment. The DICE criteria can be used to assist in this selection process. But as you say, there are other criteria that can be used such strategic alignment.

    I guess the other side of this is the acceptance of failure as a learning opportunity and the degree the business as bought in to the approach. With a high-level of buy-in a few rogue projects is acceptable.

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