Where’s the discussion about manager skills causing project failure?

For those of you that don’t know me, I wrote many editorials under the name ‘The Unknown Correspondent – Anonymous’ long before the name was associated with social activist hackers. 

In those days the main issues I discussed were the lack of skilled technical people, and computer architecture. I wrote about the basic building blocks people and organisations needed to learn. Since I hung up my pen in 2000 I believe the industry has moved from bad to worse, it seems more than happy to continue down this path. 

When CSO Australia first approached me to write again I had mixed feelings. Do I have anything to say that people might want to hear?  Is there anything that I can say that they don’t already know? Perhaps. You be the judge.

In 2012 I was reading the Hazard Report on the status of projects. The Hazard Report makes for an interesting read. In the 1960s IBM failed to deliver on a number of high profile projects which then led to the introduction of methodologies and frameworks such as Zachamman’s and the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), to name a few. 

In the 1970s and 1990s the failure rate of projects was reported to be around 60 percent, following strict methodologies and frameworks which were applied by people (managers) who were skilled. These people grew up in the industry, started on the ground floor as tape operators or whatever and learnt the industry from the ground up—you must be wondering what this has to do with the Hazard Report? 

When I read the report in 2012 the rate of project failures had increased from 60 percent to 80 percent (or more). A project is deemed as having failed if it doesn’t come in within 10 percent of its budget and timelines. The Hazard Report also stated that year upon year, this figure is growing—that is—more and more projects are failing. This translates into billions of dollars in wasted investments worldwide.

Now here is my pet hate; every article I see written about IT tries to present a view which is technically factual while not attempting to analyse why there are so many failures in the industries. Don’t they want to offend anyone?

Here are some simple rules for managers to adapt:

Read more: Don't forget all types of data in Privacy Act compliance: lawyer

  1. You must have 100 percent stakeholder commitment and involvement in the project. I have reviewed many different organisations’ projects and while stakeholders may be committed to the project, it isn’t on a 100 percent basis. Many times you see or you don’t see a representation deeply involved and helping to make decisions. The decisions are driven more by IT than business people.
  2. The manager making decisions must have appropriate knowledge and experience in the area. Otherwise, they need to delegate to someone with the necessary skills. Many people in management today haven’t grown up in the industry or alongside IT, they do not understand the impact of their decisions and the flow on effects. I have seen projects that should last three months drag out for years because of poor decisions.
  3. Managers must ensure that their staff are not only trained in IT but are also very familiar with business processes.  Many companies have opted for employees to self-train. This has led to lack of proper technical knowledge and in some cases, technical people believing that they are better than they actually are. IT people with a big head are notable for inaccuracy and non-delivery of projects. I should point out this is mostly when IT people drive a project rather than guiding the business with their decisions.
  4. Mangers need good sources of truth they can trust, but it also doesn’t hurt if they learn for themselves. While many will argue that managers should only rely on technical staff and their managers, when faced with continued non-delivery or other issues, a manager needs to get the facts, not jump to conclusions. A manager that hastens to conclusions will often say their “perceptions are X”.  Perceptions are for a person who is lazy and needs to blame someone. They want a scapegoat for their issues, instead of addressing the real problems. Perceptions are for those that cannot live with reality.
  5. Managers are meant to be proactive. Many managers that I run into these days believe it is all up to the technical person.  If senior managers aren’t involved or don’t really understand what is going on, how are they going to make good decisions? There is a great movie called “Meetings bloody Meetings” starting John Cleese. It is all about managers that spend their days in meeting and not adding value to the business. It was developed to teach managers to be managers.
  6. Mangers must have real qualifications. Back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, companies like the Post Master General Office (now better known as Telstra) ran exams to verify people’s competencies for different positions. Many managers these days do not have the appropriate qualifications for their position. Basic skills a manager must have are people skills, leadership skills, financial skills, decisions making abilities, management skills and problem solving skills. How many current managers have appropriate TAFE or university qualifications? Not many. There are many books written about how to be a good manager. In the 1990s there was a period when companies were looking to empower individuals to deliver what they called “high performance teams”. Today we have changed the term to mean we use technologies such as iPhone and iPad to maximum benefit. But do we really?  It takes more than technology to deliver a win/win situation.
  7. Hire the right person for the job. Know the skills required for a position, advertise those skills, and don’t use a shot gun approach.  Over the last seven years I have notice that companies have approach hiring new employees by advertising for an array of skills.  For example, one company was looking for a junior with two or three years’ experience but the requirements to fill the position were more for a senior person with 10 to 15 years’ experience at least.  While it is true that companies can hire anyone they believe fits their culture, there have been many cases where the employer has fewer skills than the new manager, which only adds to the problems.  I can name a number of government agencies that fit this bill.  The managers have been scared of appropriately talented and experience people, so they haven’t been hired.
  8. Don’t use a recruitment company. If a manager cannot define the requirements for a position, don’t expect the recruitment agency to be mind-readers. One of the biggest complaints I hear from talking to people around the country is that recruitment agencies call them about position for which they aren’t skilled. Worse still, candidates are short-listed for an interview only to find out at the interview the skills the company is looking for are nothing like what was advertised. Managers need to get their act together. While companies don’t think about this (and there are many) they will do this repeatedly.  One company over eight month advertised a service delivery position ever six weeks. Over this time the position description evolved as the manager and company worked out what they wanted in terms of skills. By the sixth month, most of the knowledgeable service delivery managers in the industry were aware of the company’s tactic. Another well know company on St Kilda road Melbourne, advertised a junior position including requirements for the ability to lead international teams and with experience working on major projects of 30 or more people. I say good luck to anyone that wants to work with these types of companies and this mentality. I only wish that I could name names.
  9. If you are playing games all day or attending meetings then you are not really a manager.  Managers need to plan, dissect, analyse and evolve themselves and their people.  I have spent time in companies observing managers spending their day doing everything but what they should be doing. In security there is a fantastic rule that I love—mandatory vacations.  This is where you find out that a missing manager has not impacted delivery, while performance also improves.  Take the recent uproar where Qantas was going to sack thousands of employees due to poor performance of the company. It was well known in the industry that the management decisions were the cause if Qantas’s down fall.  What did happen with the Senate hearing into Qantas and job losses?

Many articles I read are well written and don’t offend anyone. Is there any wonder why the industry is in a worse state now than in the 1990s or early 2000s? 

How many of you are aware of high profile law suits against international IT companies for failing to deliver projects worth millions?

At one stage there was a web site which listed the numerous complaints by people and customers against a very well know company. The company forced the removal of the web site and its contents, however, in the true spirit of the Internet, if you search you will still find the site. Here’s a clue to the identity of the company, it is more concerned with its share price than what its customers and employees are saying is wrong.

I recently read the results of an ISACA survey conducted in the USA and Europe, which I will summarise.  Of those who responded to the survey, 93 percent claimed their IT people didn’t have the skills or knowledge to perform the work they do. It was also made clear that managers didn’t have the skills to be able to identify areas where these shortages occurred or how to resolve it.

How can anything ever be resolve when the decision makers don’t have the skills required?

In the 1960s before the USA introduced the idea that a company could not be held liable for its actions, industry down fall began (in general, not just this). However, in May 2013 the US Delaware district courts ruled that managers are accountable for their decisions. This ruling itself is detailed in its intent.

What it means is that no matter where a manager goes they are still responsible for past decisions. Better still, any money earned during that period can be recovered to pay those affected by their poor management, that’s food for thought.

Nicely worded articles which don’t offend need to stop. Attention needs to be drawn to decisions makers, the ones causing issues—as well as the issues themselves.  One really noticeable area is the Privacy Act. I’d suggest up to 95 percent of companies haven’t yet even attempted to comply with the new Act. But perhaps this is another discussion.


Tags privacy actproject failureOpinionsHazard ReportISACA surveyZachamman's Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK)

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