Spotting a failing project

How do you identify a failing project?? Back on May 1, I wrote about why software projects fail. Thanks for the response to the post and the suggestions. Here is a great companion piece from Rick Cook writing for CIO – How to Spot a Failing Project.  Rick introduces this paper by optimistically saying that project managers are getting better and more sophisticated at managing software development. However, even today according to Rick, only one-third of all projects are considered complete successes. He believes that a key to successful project management is to spot problems early while there is still time for course corrections.

I highly recommend his entire article. Here is a peek at a few of his potential pending-failure metrics:

  • Lack of interest including missed meetings, not participating in discussions, or not paying attention
  • A “No-Bad-News” environment
  • Lots of overtime
  • Diversion of resources
  • Missing intermediate milestones

If you have a favorite “tell” that makes you uneasy about a project’s success or failure, please share.


Business Analysts – the unsung heroes of successful projects

If your project has a Business Analyst (BA) consider yourself fortunate because a BA helps solve problems when they happen and often prevent them from happening in the first place. On a project, the BA works in tandem with the PM to create a successful project outcome with the PM focusing on resource management and schedule compliance and the BA assuring accurate collection of and compliance with the requirements of all stakeholders.

According to Wikipedia, a BA is “responsible for analyzing the business needs of clients to help identify business problems and propose solutions. Within the systems development life cycle domain, the business analyst typically performs a liaison function between the business side of an enterprise and the providers of services to the enterprise.”

Alternatively, the International Institute of Business Analysis offers the following definition of the BA’s role: "A business analyst works as a liaison among stakeholders in order to elicit, analyze, communicate and validate requirements for changes to business processes, policies and information systems." The BA’s work may include eliciting functional and non-functional requirements, translating business needs to developers and developer’s constraints to other stakeholders, and managing the customer relationship. WOW! I bet they are also expected to part the Red Sea and feed the multitudes.

Why is the BA’s job so difficult and challenging?
The skills required to be an effective BA are spread across such diverse skill sets that they may seem contradictory—logical analysis, understanding state-of-the-art software capabilities, excellent written and verbal communication, diplomacy, knowledge of best practices, attention to detail, and the ability to see and communicate a bigger business picture—it’s a long list.

Let’s consider just one of the crucial BA tasks to see why it can be so difficult and challenging—usability requirements. Usability goes to the heart of acceptance of a software product by the stakeholder group called “users”.  According to Usability First:

“Usability depends on a number of factors including how well the functionality fits user needs, how well the flow through the application fits user tasks, and how well the response of the application fits user expectations. Usability is the quality of a system that makes it easy to learn, easy to use, easy to remember, error tolerant, and subjectively pleasing.”
You may think that the BA could just ask the user’s what they want, document it, and give the requirements document to the project manager. Well, believe me; it does not work that way in practice. One of the problems is that user’s rarely know what they want—at least not in sufficient detail to derive product design specifications. Users may find it difficult to imagine what their experience will be like without actually working with the software to accomplish their job tasks. Then they find all kinds of flaws.
Not to mention that human nature does not always like change and so people will look for details to complain about.  Or, there may be multiple users with competing preferences. Here is how the BA can help ensure usability and acceptance.

  1. Identify the current process and any problems the users have with it
  2. Talk with users about their known preferences and wishes
  3. Create a concept of operations that walks users through the operations of the new software, document their responses, explain them to developers
  4. Create use cases, user personas, or scenarios that explain the varied user’s needs and tasks to the developers and project managers
  5. Use words and pictures to help developers and users communicate more effectively
  6. Maintain requirements compliance and give feedback to both the PM, the users, and the paying client—facilitate continuous communication

You can learn more about BA best practices by ordering a copy of the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) recently updated in March 2009. The book is free for International Institute of Business Analysis members and $29.95 for non-members.

If you have worked with a BA please share your experience.


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