I’ve been involved with projects in one form or another for 14 years and over the years I’ve had some humdingers. I’d like to share some of the weirdest experiences I’ve had as a project professional and lessons you can take away from them. Here are the most memorable, in no particular order:
The Customer Who Told Us to Act Like Huskies and Eat Each Other
I was involved in an extremely expensive and controversial project involving multiple vendors and billions of dollars. This project was critical for the customer and they were regularly pitting the various vendors against each other.
The most memorable meeting was about 10 months into the project and involved 6 vendors and the customer’s Senior Responsible Owner.
The SRO stood up in front of us and announced that he wanted us vendors to act like huskies – pull together as a team but if there were issues we were to eat each other! There was a stunned silence as all the vendors just froze and looked at each other around the table as if to say, “what the hell just happened?” Needless to say the project was not a success.
Lesson: Make it your business to understand the customer’s actual requirements up front. You might find that what they say they want and what they actually want are two very different things.
The Initial Business Case That Took 14 Versions to Get Approved
I should have taken the fact that the previous Project Manager walked off the job without giving notice as a sign, but in my naïveté I didn’t. Oh boy, did I learn from that one.
My first day on the job I was handed version 8 of an unapproved initial business case for my project and told that it was due to be resubmitted 2 days from then and to get on with it. OK, I can do that. Yeah right.
I revised the document as best I could with my (very) limited knowledge of the project and gaily submitted it to the steering committee for approval. It came back with multiple revision requests and another deadline 2 days hence. I made all of the required changes and submitted it again. Only to have it rejected for different reasons and multiple change requests.
This cycle went on for over 3 months; all the while I was expected to be getting on with delivering a project with an unapproved business case.
During this time I had meetings with the steering committee where I was questioned as to why the project wasn’t progressing as it should and they couldn’t understand why it couldn’t progress without a signed business case.
In the end, I presented the original business case, changed the project manager’s name to mine and submitted it. This was the one that got approved. Go figure.
Lesson: As a Project Manager, being able to manage upwards is one of the most important skills you can possess.
Information Security – We Don’t Need Any of That, Thanks
This time, I wasn’t the project manager (thank goodness). The project involved replacing legacy systems that held large quantities of individuals’ personal data. During a regular project meeting about 2/3rds of the way through the project I asked when they would be conducting an information security audit on the system. Cue rabbit in headlights look from all of the development team and the project manager.
It turned out that not only did they not know the legal requirements for information security; they hadn’t built the system with any of the standard security measures in place. And this was a system that was likely to be subjected to regular hack attempts by disgruntled people. Back to the drawing board people. I was not a popular person that day and ended up losing my job over it.
Lesson: Sometimes doing the right thing will cost you financially, but it is still worth sticking to your principles.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you during a project?
- Rhona Aylward is the Operations Director, otherwise known as the Deputy Everything Officer, at Psoda. She graduated from Napier University in Edinburgh with an Honours Degree in Applied Microbiology & Biotechnology in 1998 and in her own words “promptly never did anything scientific again.” She has over 14 years international experience in quality and project management, has established several large PMOs and has worked in a number of industries including manufacturing, defense, telecommunications, justice, financial services and government.