When Does a Project Need to Die?

When does a project need to die?

I notice things that are broken. I often see people working on projects that have gone on so long, that the project is invalid. Time and money keeps being poured into the project, but there is no end insight. In the past I had to endure a company working on a project from 2004-2009 that did not launch until 2009, and the software was still based-on a 2004 base. Sad. Annoying. Everyone hated it when it was introduced.

In the last year I witnessed a company selling software to schools based-on Microsoft Silverlight in spite of it being canceled by Microsoft (http://www.neowin.net/news/microsoft-shuts-down-silverlightnet-wont-talk-about-future-updates) . When schools buy solutions like this, they are buying something that is basically dead and frozen in time.

Being personally connected to projects is a mistake many people, including myself. The focus should always be to provide support and opportunities for teaching and learning, not to achieve a personal goal.

Keeping it simple a project needs to die if:

  1. There is no leadership or people interested in being project leaders.
  2. The support from the community is not present or they have a negative view of the solution.
  3. New solutions are available and are going to be more affordable over a 5 year period.
  4. The original plan used an outdated technology or core resource that has been deprecated.
  5. Errors and problems are taking more than 30% of the original development time to fix.

The 5th item might not sit well for many people. Consider the math. Ifyou have put one year into a project and the existing problems will take more than 4 months to fix, you need to consider that implementing a new solution might be faster, and cost the same as wasting time and money on something that is plagued with problems.

Conversely if you have only worked 30 days on a project, then putting an extra 9 days into it, is justifiable. Keep the logic reasonable and the 30% ratio will work.

Canceling and/or quitting things has a bad connotation. However remember, projects are made of ideas, and the process of working on a project creates new ideas and experiences for the future. Somethings may seem like an L now but in the future they end up being a W. Play the long game and keep the focus on teaching and learning.


Animal House 1978

This week I had an interesting experience. I received and email that was vague, but critical, about a project I had been working on.

Like anyone, I hate having to mull over everything I have done wrong. I do make it a point to spend the last few hours of work at the end of each week doing just that. To facilitate the reflection, I do inventory or something very mechanical while I think.

In this case though, I was confused about the comments. The reason being- the project was finished in October 2012.

I myself have to constantly follow-up on numerous projects. Almost everything I do is in the public view. This is one reason I document everything, write reports, and update the school’s IT Policy and Procedures Manual every 3-4 months. If I cannot deliver a criticism to someone within a short time after a project is finished, I just move on. The time between projects is short, so I never want to carry the negative energy from one project into another.

If I have been working with someone, and they seem to constantly repeat mistakes, I make a point to be prepared for that behavior, and deal with it while things are fluid and in progress.

As annoyed as I was, I had to admit that there was a problem. I was not sure what the problem really was, because the comments I received were very vague. I was not sure if the issues were from something else that had triggered some negative memories from October, or if, the concern arose since were approaching planning for the next year.

I dug into my Google Apps and found the IT report I wrote in November of 2012. This was a report to show the current state of IT after switching to BYOD and to Apple in the secondary division. Both projects, very huge, and they occurred concurrently.

The report clearly shows that I had summarized, with data and comments, where the school “was” after the two implementations.  The person who contacted me about the October 2012 issues, was the person I wrote this report for, and met with, in November.

I feel now that I may have been on Double Secret Probation for most of the year. What I mean by that, is, obviously for a very long time there have been concerns with the way I managed these two large implementations.  These concerns, were not voiced all year. I feel like they were not voiced because everyone was busy, and things were actually working fine when the implementation was finished.

I knew, at the time, the level of stress was high. I predicted a six month period of issues and adjustments with these two big implementations. The fact is though, we only suffered a three month adjustment period. The staff and students were amazing and adaptive. I assumed, which one should never do, that the stress among the school’s leadership team would be reduced after the staff and students had settled in. I was wrong.

I should have had more contact time with those who felt the most concerned about the projects, if they had failed.

As I have said, most of the things I do are in the face of the community, but I am not the face of community. It is easy to forget the people who are trusting the technology plan are also the people who have to be accountable for it. It was, and will always be, a mistake to not provide extra time for those whose support is the fuel for change. A lesson to not be forgotten- at least for me.

At the same time though, feedback has to come quickly to people who are working on projects. Projects require planning, budgeting, and are often connected. By not being up front, and even confrontational, about problems, the community can suffer. Mistakes can build up, and a bad project, following a bad project will lead to an exponential growth in problems.

At this stage, I am hoping last year’s data will help eliminate the stress, and get to the heart of the issues. I know one thing, I want to be off of Double Secret Probation as soon as possible.

Tony DePrato