How do you measure success and failure of projects?

There are quantitative and qualitative ways to describe the success or failure of a project.

In general, a project is considered succesful when it meets its objectives while staying within an agreed up on budget and time line. This sounds simple enough, except that it is not !

First, who decides if a project is succesful? And if a project passes a series of tests and goes live, is it considered succesful? The common model is to celebrate success at go-live. But going live is just the beginning of the journey. It takes a fair amount of time to judge if the business got sufficient value out the project. Also, at what cost? Did they have to hire more people to support the implementation? Can they make enhancements to the functionality as requirements change, without costing an arm and a leg? Do we attribute this to the original project?

Since I am more familiar with SAP projects than non-SAP projects, let me quote examples from SAP area. In the nineties, SAP was not as rich in functionality as it is today. Many implementations had dirty modifications to source code to make it work according to requirements. These were called succesful projects at the time. 15 years later, these same modifications have caused the customers a lot of trouble in upgrading their systems. So do we still call them succesful?

Second, all stakeholders have to agree to a set of objectives that a project has to meet. Sounds simple enough – but then, it is kind of hard to accomplish too. First, there is the legal issue – if you cannot express it in a language that lawyers agree to, the objective will not be present in the contract. And if it is not in the contract – it is hard to ensure it will be met. Then there is the question of the definition of who a stakeholder is. In large projects, there are many people who are affected, and it is impossible to get them all enlisted to create a list of objectives. So a subset of people is assigned as leads or representatives, and they may or may not know how the new project is going to affect the work of the whole population. 

In one of my first succesful SAP projects, I remember going to the office the day after go-live and finding a large number of trucks backed up from the loading bay all the way into the street. Guess what? no one remembered to capture the requirements of the picking department – so they tried to do it the old way, like they have done all their lives – and then could not update the system with the results. Thankfully, we could solve it with some quick work around – but the point is – you cannot figure out every one’s requirements all the time in big projects.  Voice of the majority does not mean something is right – there are plenty of exceptions in every business process, and they all should be handled.  Consultants swear by “Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive” – just that as scope increases, the chance for hitting this paradigm decreases.

Third – how do you agree up on project time line and budget? It is by estimation, which is an inexact science by definition. Based on prior experience, some one thinks that a certain task will take a certain amount of time to finish.  Just as the stock market has taught us that past performance is not a good measure of future (for the short-term),  there is no guarantee that these estimates will hold true across the life of the project. Techniques like PERT make us eliminate bias by using formulae that goes from pessimistic to optimistic. But as all experienced project managers will attest – estimates are best guesses, irrespective of techniques. 

Now – this means estimates have to be revised as projects progress and we have more data. But the question remains – if I estimated $2M today, and then re-estimated after 3 months to find that it actually costs $3M – is the project already a failure? The world outside the project typically looks at projects with this perspective. Once an estimate is made for time and money, then the world expects it to be set in stone, come what may. There is no room for re-estimation.  So most projects get into this situation that they are set up to fail from the beginning.

Finally, no project has unlimited resources – so scope and timeline usually is subservient to available money. This means some one has to prioritize scope. And in this process, some requirements will need to be dropped. Despite the due diligence in this exercise – it is hard to avoid a decrease in value to some part of the customer organization. But when the project finishes and these gaps get exposed – usually it is put as a failure of the project.

Now, I am not the only one to have this knowledge – most customers, consultants and software vendors know this. But why would not this situation change? Just a rhetorical question of course 🙂


Do you live to eat or eat to live?

Those who know me well, surely know the answer to this – and knowing most of the “those who know me” and others, I know that I don’t stand-alone in my conviction.

Now, most of us who live to eat, do not live “only” to eat – we do other things too. Just that we love good food, and gluttony is a virtue in our holy book.

Like everything else in life, we can categorize the “live to eat” people into a few types.

1. Those who live to eat a specific item

For me – it is rice. I need rice like I need oxygen. If I don’t get some rice every day, I cease to be me. I have paid 50 Euros in Germany to get a cab to go eat some rice at a restaurant, where the meal costed me 10 Euros.  Although I have a marked preference for Indian food, I love rice in all forms. I love Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, pretty much any form of rice.

Same goes for drinks – If it is warm – 90% of the time, I will order a Mojito. If it is cold – 90% of the time, i stick to a Bloody Mary. If I have to drive, I have just a bloody mary mix – which can also be called a bloody shame.

2. Those who live to enjoy a specific taste/flavor

For my wife – it is “anything” sweet. She can eat honey flavored cereal for 3 meals a day for several days a week. Her mom puts several spoons of sugar into her tea. If I bring home half a bag of European Chocolate, it will be gone in 2 days flat.

3. Those who live to enjoy a specific cuisine

I am a road warrior due to my job as a consultant. restaurant food is what I have to it – whether I like it or not. While I have favorites in every place I have had to work, I try to mix it up. Specifically, despite my love for Indian food – there is hardly a week where I have eaten twice at an Indian eatery. But earlier this year – I was assigned to a gig in East Germany, in Dresden.  Dresden is a very touristy place – and has every cuisine you can think of. There are 5 Indian restaurants there. Over a period of 9 months, I would have spent about 3 months time there – and I ate Indian food almost every single day – most days for lunch and dinner, and usually at the same restaurant called Agra. 

When I think about it – why did I do that? The answer is “comfort”. We had a large team from India, most of whom were out of the country for the first time.  For them, Indian food was the closest to being back home. And although I live in USA, I am as much an Indian in my food habits as the next guy. So as a group – we flocked to this Indian restaurant.

There are two more reasons – one, apart from Indian restaurants, it is hard for Indians to find vegetarian food that they like.  And two, it was a stress buster to have a routine where every one went to this place every night and had a beer, or salt lassy and talked about everything that affected them that day.

4. Those who live to enjoy a variety of cuisines

This is the exact opposite of the above. I have a few friends who are open to try anything and everything – including  uncooked fish,  and monkey’s brains. They have favorite cuisines too, but generally they are driven by the need for variety.  And now that I think about it – all these friends are Europeans. Is it a European thing?

So, what about our brethren (should I add “and sistren”?)  who eat to live? For the rest of us – we don’t comprehend these people at all.  They also can be divided into some classifications…well heck, every thing can be classified into atleast two.

1. Health junkies

You know them – soymilk, half a splenda , “can I get more raw spinach for lunch?” types.  These guys make me want to ask them ” if you are doing this to lengthen your life, can you explain one more time why you want to live an extra year munching on spinach and lettuce?”.

2. Too busy to eat

Well – I do feel sorry for them. These people survive on granola bar and diet soda. Talking of diet soda – does any one know the difference between Coke Zero and Diet Coke?

3. Speedy Converts

Nothing to do with religion at all- these are folks who went too far down the “eat to live” path and want to swing the pendulum the opposite way in one sweep. From one pint of ice cream a day, they go to one granola bar a day. I feel bad for them – most of them get threatened by doctors and spouses – usually rightfully so – to change their diets to save their lives. It is a huge sacrifice. And there usually isn’t sufficient time to ease into it. If this happens to me – I will probably be convinced that I was a big sinner in my past life.

Striking is a happy medium is admittedly difficult – but I do believe that such a thing exists. How else would Atkins and Bowflex and all these other things survive for so long despite individuals giving up on it all the time? Or are we all suckers of the highest order?And why do I not see some one my size doing them in the TV ad, instead of a Rambo figure guy ? “Before and After” pictures don’t cut it for me – I refuse to believe them.

Damned if you do …damned if you don’t

You have your priorities all wrong.messed up.and why not?  What is more important to you? Family? Job? Riches? Having fun? daughter’s dance class? poker night?

This is not a question that can be answered without additional information. And the word we need to add is “now” – making it  “What is more important to you NOW?”

The whole priority thing is a “point in time” view…Which means, what is a priority now might not have been a priority yesterday and so on.

This leads to the next issue – how long will your prioroties last? By the time you have sorted all your prioroties, time has moved on – and what can you do? You get back to sorting the darn priorities….rinse and repeat.

This makes priorotizing a stressful task – and the last thing we want at holiday time is more stress…so how do we avoid stressing out? We can decide NOT to prioritize at all, at least for some time.

Phew – no priorities to worry out. Just curl up on couch and order in pizza and watch a movie. Isn’t that heaven? Well – there is one small problem. We need to buy presents, put up the tree, light it up , cook and clean for the family and friends…and there isn’t enough time.

Oh but there is – if only we could prioritize and figure out what we need to do first and second and third and ….heck we need to prioritize…

Damned if you do …damned if you don’t

you can NEVER prioritize…got that? NEVER EVER