The dark arts of Project Death Denial

Diversionary tactics and other glorious flights – the dark arts of the Death Denial Project. By Paul Holmes

Death and denial

In the past, I have discussed Project Death Spirals and the four alarm bells that signal the impending doom.

Those who constitute the driving force behind such projects and plans, may of course raise their hands to their ears and ignore the warnings. After all, no one earns a bonus by recognizing that a project is in final decline, at least of all the project or program manager, and when there is still something to do and problems to fix, it is a brave person who calls it what it is and sponsors an even braver one who listens and acts.

A recovery attempt should always be the default response, but if it has been tried, perhaps several times, or the scope for further correction is limited, the threat to pride and career can tempt to consider a number of dubious techniques that have been developed to deal with gravity and divert attention from the atrocities that occurred.

Of course, such behavior is delusional and doomed to provide only a pretense of success, but when projects are politicized, for the masters of this dark art, the sky is the limit.

Here are my 5 favorite luxury flights:

Number 1: Re-step and reinvent

Here, a project that has no chance of launching the favors of benefits offered in its business case, and to this day has given no more than a cup of lukewarm tea and a soaked biscuit, suddenly undergoes a miraculous metamorphosis and is revealed as Stage 1.

A non-history consultant on the project, who was then parachuted in on a suspicious haste to deliver Phase 2, was told that this new project would address “issues prominent from Phase 1”. But beware if it’s you, because chances are you were bequeathed to a group that is a shadow of its former self, a bottomless pit of bugs and the company’s absurd claim that Phase 2 “will be based on Phase 1 achievements”.

In this way, the project never failed because it was never completed. magic!

Number 2: Inverter rotation

The project is now constantly repairing and repairing, ignoring the fact that nothing stays fixed over time, the list of repairs never shrinks and there is much more repair than delivery. This evasion works by exploiting the illusion that to the untrained eye frantic activity can move on to progress. It causes the illusion of “we’re almost there” that I once heard sent by the true wit of a pilot who makes his pre-flight announcement. Addressing the “younger passengers” reassured them that “throughout the flight, we will continue to be almost there.”

Many empty roads symbolize choice

The project managers on the flight laughed the loudest. The young passengers just kept up with their computer games and one day expected to have senior stakeholders.

Number 3: Low hanging silver balls

Confused easily with but definitely different from the rush of a spin, this ploy is best presented as a starving monkey in the middle of winter swinging from branch to branch in a desperate search for nuts and berries to ward off hunger. From a distance, each branch promises more than it ever maintains, and the exhausted monkey has no choice but to continue to avoid starvation.

The mid-flight metaphor change underscores the real futility of this recurring response to the impending disaster and illustrates how a project can indulge in the pursuit of a whole series of easy explanations why it has failed to date, whether it is the wrong scope. , Wrong technology, wrong third party provider, wrong methodology, wrong planning / evaluation approach or wrong thinking of the program manager or manager.

A silver ball just in front of it is a green sign with dramatic clouds, sunbeams and sky

Low hanging silver balls are tempting delicacies but ultimately toxic. They promise a sudden change in capital, but they steal the time that needs to be invested in coming to terms with the real state of the project.

Shut up to them in your danger!

Number 4: Loop of lessons loop

Although it may perform an exercise multiple times by project leadership or even the PMO, it is most effective as a reason to ignore alarm bells when recruiting a variety of internal and external players, especially trusted external consultants, loyal to the character. Go big on what they would have done differently.

A plane and its dotted path on a white background.  Vector illustration

Exercises learned gain credibility by being systematically systematic and constantly judging, so it’s really not hard to come up with a bunch of buzz words and cases to sound smart and full of insights. The project is rewarded with renewed optimism that disaster can still be prevented and discipline restored, the project wins a postponement of at least another 6 months, and fortunately, a new group of predecessors are accused of doing poor work.

Enough time for those who quietly managed to extract!

Number 5: Big wig!

When senior management is thrown on a problematic project, their takeover deals with the symbolism of salvation and the so-called firepower they bring to fix things. Since the optics of such a move is that the project cannot be seen to have failed, the prime minister’s reputation is, often, ancillary damage. While hero managers will be able to get their hands on resources avoided by the prime minister, the number of their delivery skills tends to be disproportionate to the order of their advanced talents to spin success stories on their guard.

In one moment, then, failure is a thing of the past, whether it is true or not.

An angry angry boss yells at the speaker.  The clutter in the office, the papers flying.  Deadline Disruption Metaphor

In extreme cases, a CEO may decide that it is right to do everything. But experience shows that very few CEOs possess exactly the talents needed to solve a major chewing project problem; Decision making in the project does not improve because the big cheese asks for updates every hour; And the collective IQ of the project team will not expand just because someone who can fire them instead breathes in their metaphorical neck with suggestions of exactly the things that were tried and failed weeks ago.

But, like the parable of the emperor’s clothes, no one dares to admit that the project is not conducted in an exemplary manner and is quickly restored to height so it must be true. classified!

Avoid but never dodge

In practice, self-preservation associations of stakeholders and corporate interests will infiltrate cocktails of these beeps to divert attention from the role they themselves played directly or indirectly in the failure of the project and perpetuate the illusion that all is not doom and despair.

However, in the long run, death, like taxes, cannot be denied, and the truth will come out. Apparently, these evasions and their many disrespectful cousins ​​will only be used to postpone the day of reckoning and the resulting losses, which will, of course, be greater than the organization not coming clean in the first place.

So, when the next step is a veteran project leader relentlessly complaining about headwinds, unresponsive controls, sad momentum and finances running non-stop, maybe it’s time to evaluate his years of experience and start dealing with the death spiral first and foremost.

for further reading:

Death Spirals Project

When a government turns against a project

SHAMBLs Syndrome

About the writer

Paul Holmes

Paul Holmes is an IT Programs Consultant with a 30-year background in custom software delivery in a wide range of industries. He has special experience in managing problematic projects that need intensive recovery and often writes about lessons to be learned and the pathology of problems in the project. All points of view and opinions expressed are Paul’s own. You can contact Paul at or through LinkedIn




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