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Watermelons, watermelons everywhere!

How are you tracking? How do you know?

Watermelons are my favorite fruit! Being Irish, I obviously didn't grow up eating watermelons. In fact, I didn't even know that such a fruit existed! The Irish weather would only allow me to indulge in apples, pears, strawberries and something called gooseberries. A lot of gooseberries, although I am not sure if Australians have heard of gooseberries. That is OK, you are not missing out! So when I moved to Australia, I loved going grocery shopping and having all these exotic fruits and vegetables to choose from, such as watermelons and sweetcorn. It is at this stage of my story, that my Australian husband steps in and informs me i cannot write a story where i call watermelons and sweetcorn exotic....but hey that's a story for another day!

So who cares about watermelons and why are they relevant?

Well if you take a good look at a watermelon, what colour is it on the inside and on the outside? That's right, it is green on the outside and red on the inside. So, who has worked on a project that has tracked green until the very last stage and then have it track red? Have you worked on a project like that? I know i have, a few times.

It was in the papers recently that an Australian bank had just stopped a core banking replacement project after spending $90M. Ouch. Another project bites the dust. Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence. Imagine for a moment, you were working on that project. How would you feel? Does anyone want to work on a failed project? Is it good for your motivation levels? Do you feel a sense of pride, ownership and feeling valued? Do you reckon someone took the fall for the $90M cost with no benefit? My guess is probably.

So why does it happen and can we do anything to prevent it? Flagging a project as red means that you will receive a lot of unwarranted scrutiny, attention and pressure, most of which is unhelpful in solving the problem. Hence, there is a reluctance from people to draw attention to their project specifically at a time, when they are desperately trying to do everything they can to bring it under control. However, at the same time, the people financing the project have a right to know how things are going. Both of these conflicting situations can leave a team in a pickle.

Is there something that we can do earlier on projects to allow us to accurately assess what position we are currently in? And therefore, either course correct to give us a greater chance of success or to stop earlier and reduce spend by stopping earlier.

It is possible but it requires a multi pronged approach:


So how do you do this?

Being Data Driven simply means:

  • Single source of truth for tracking your work

  • Standardizing your language and time increments so you can easily compare

  • Putting an effort in upfront on data quality

  • Making your work visible and 'looking' at what changes/moves

Having The Right Conversations simply means:

  • Understanding data is not the destination, but the start of your journey

  • Moving away from vague conversations such as 'Are you making progress?'

  • Being specific in your questions, e.g. 'The current velocity of the team, means you are unlikely to achieve an in market in November, do you agree?'

Culture simply means:

  • Acknowledging that people are resistant to being data driven upfront

  • Acknowledge that the transparency can make people feel threatened, blamed

  • If you do not understand the benefits, it can feel too hard, time consuming, the wrong focus

  • So we need culture to embrace and understand that a strong delivery team makes their work and challenges visible and transparent. That they understand they will not be blamed for such visibility, but be applauded for calling it out early, thus allowing action and support

The power of this approach is that you can predict, using data, your likely ending position and use the data to scenario model to assess what a 'good outcome' looks like. It will also encourage the right conversations earlier so that you can course correct and allow teams to lean into the hard decisions together by tabling them in an open forum.

Surely we can handle these tough conversations and achieve early intervention upfront? We need to change culture so that honesty early on is rewarded and encouraged without blame. We need to acknowledge that hundreds of million dollar programs are just complex and that going off the rails is to be expected/normal and the challenge is to focus on how we deal with it when it happens rather than focus on the fact that it has happened.

So whilst watermelons are my favorite fruit, they are not my favorite project. Lets agree a project, should be more like a tree. They need roots, they can grow in many directions, it is possible for the tree to bear fruit, but we may need to prune to get the desired outcome

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