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My Top 3 Project Nightmares!

Most of my posts tend to be serious; telling you about the benefits of hiring a consultant, setting up your business strategy, and project threats. This time, I thought I’d amuse you by going down memory lane to describe some of the worst projects I’ve worked on.

Before I do, permit me to let you into a secret:


Back in the days when I was in permanent employment, a common interview question was, “Describe a scenario where something went wrong on a project you were working on, and how you responded.” Or something along those lines.

Initially, I thought it was a ploy to trip me up. I mean, you actually want me to admit that something went wrong? Under my watch??

But as I matured in my field, it became clear that things DO and WOULD go wrong. All the time! The key in that interview question was to understand how I responded when the unexpected happened.

So, if you are working with a consultant or delivery expert who beats his or her chest and claims they have never had a failure on a project, please view them with suspicion…

…but I digress. It’s not about the hiccup, it’s about how you handle it, and the lessons you learn from it.

In the spirit of being vulnerable here are my Top 3 Project Nightmares; the 3 worst projects I have worked on!

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So in the spirit of being vulnerable here are my top 3 project nightmares; the 3 worst projects I have worked on in my time.

The first was in one of the big 4 banks.

I was the Lead Analyst, and the project was being managed by someone else. However, her style was to get involved in the minutiae of everything on the project.

And I mean, everything.

The micromanagement was constant, and it was challenging to work with someone who seemed not to trust my capabilities or expertise, and did not respect professional boundaries.

Lesson learned:

I’m a big believer of doing what I’m good at, and delegating or outsourcing the rest (I think the kids call it “staying in your lane”!)

Sometimes people look to cover all bases out of their own insecurities. This lady clearly didn’t trust me, for whatever reason. Which was a shame, because the project was already quite a challenge for lots of other reasons, and we could have provided each other with moral support.

Instead, it made the project ten times harder. Unfortunately, this situation dragged on for months, despite my best efforts to resolve it and find some common ground with her.

When the project was finally brought to an abrupt end, I must admit I did a little happy dance!

And talking of dragging on for months, that brings me to Project Number 2…

…actually it’s the same project, so I’ve cheated a little.

The Senior Management within the Corporate and Technology Directorates had decided on this fancy initiative. Not just that it needed to be done, but also on what the solution would be, how it would be implemented and when.

Which may not sound bad, but this was done without much groundwork being done upfront.

Call it whatever you will: assessing the feasibility, doing a study, undergoing project initiation activities. If any – or all – of these steps had been done, there is no way anyone in their right mind would have given this the thumbs-up. But they did anyway, and then…

..the project went on hold. Funding was withheld, and the whole team awaited a definitive steer on whether to proceed with it or not. FOR THREE MONTHS!

It was soul-destroying to witness that level of procrastination. The decision to do this had clearly been made in haste, but when the costs became apparent, those who ultimately held the purse strings wouldn’t retrace their steps and “abort the mission”.

Lesson learned:

Don't rush in, thinking you know the solution before you've analysed the problem. And if you have, just admit it

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Don’t rush in, thinking you know the solution before you have analysed the problem. And if you have, don’t be ashamed to admit you’ve made a mistake. Make the decision to remedy it quickly, instead of procrastinating and incurring even more losses.

Project Number 3 was for a smaller company.

Small and medium-sized businesses have their advantages, but a disadvantage can be the lack of processes and procedures. And a lack of will to adhere to them.

In this incarnation, I was responsible for both the analysis on the project, and overall management of it. It was to develop a new internet banking and customer management platform; all very sexy and exciting. We worked with a marketing agency to develop the branding and to make it all user-friendly.

Only problem was, the Marketing team just couldn’t decide what they wanted. One day, it was a blue homepage with purple banners. The next, it was a purple homepage with blue banners!

I understood that creativity was at work, and sometimes one needs to visualise an option to know whether it works or not.

But this wasn’t just for the aesthetic side of things; it applied to core technical functionality too. This went on for months, and got so bad that things were still being changed even as we were testing the finished product!

I honestly had never seen anything like it, and I haven’t since.

I doubt that the agency made a profit on that piece of work. I was on the client side at the time, and as the saying goes, the customer is always right. But I was ashamed to have to go back to them and explain why yet ANOTHER change was needed to a wireframe or concept which had been signed off two days before!

Lesson learned:

Requirements MUST be finalised and approved by the business upfront. That process sounds logical enough, but they must be approved on the understanding that any changes after this point will need to undergo a special approval process, and will cost the project additional time and money.

I knew this, but my stakeholders didn’t buy into the change control process, and I inadvertently encouraged them to circumvent it when I agreed to get things changed, again and again.

So you see, not every project I have delivered has run smoothly.

Just don’t mention “Internet Banking”, or I might just start to twitch!

(Only joking 😊! If you need help delivering or overhauling your Online Banking platform – or any other project – let me know)