One Simple Question That Keeps Projects from Going off the Rails
It’s unusual for projects to come in on target, on time, and on budget. Ask one simple question that gets teams solving problems before they happen.
12 reasons good projects go bad:
- Unrealistic planning.
- Poorly defined goals and milestones.
- Disorganized leaders.
- Lack of motivation.
- Frantic schedules.
- Communication breakdowns. Misunderstanding slows progress. Crossed wires create conflict.
- Ineffective resource allocation.
- Failure to adapt to evolving market demands that change project requirements.
- Software bugs.
- Hardware failures.
- Economic upheaval.
- Legal issues.
One simple question that keeps projects on track:
“Imagine this project is over and it’s a catastrophic failure. What did we fail to do that contributed to the failure?”
Before you mess with the language of this question, consider why it’s worded this way.
Set the stage:
Get teams in problem-solving mode by asking about imagined failure. It’s normal to worry about projects. It means you care. Tap into problem-solving power before problems happen.
Declare intent so you won’t give offense.
Team members might take offense when you say, “Imagine this project is a catastrophic failure.” They could think you don’t trust them. Or something worse.
First say, “I’m asking this question because I want to tap into your problem-solving skills before problems happen.” Now say, “Imagine this project is over and it’s a catastrophic failure. What did we fail to do that contributed to the failure?”
“Fail to do,” is designed to extract specific actions. If you ask, “What went wrong?” the conversation will go off the rails. They’ll think of things outside their control. Maybe they’ll bring up a lousy economy.
Include a time factor for long-term projects. When projects are months from completion, say, “What did we fail to do this month….” Or “This quarter.” Short timelines require timely action.
What makes this question useful?
How would you modify the language of this question?
A Premortem: Reverse Positive Thinking for Success – Leadership Freak
How to Get Projects Back on Track Fast – Leadership Freak
Keeping on Track (projecttimes.com)
Dan, I think your question is useful. But I also think it’s helpful to also ask a question from the positive side.
“Imagine this project is over and it’s a huge success. What did we do that contributed to the success?”
Looking at things from both extremes can give you good insights.
Thanks Paul. Agreed. You tap a different part of the brain with that question. You also engage optimist more. Pessimists make wonderful contributions when you focus them. Cheers
Having worn the boots helps many. If we have to many hands in the cookie jar causes the cookies to run out! If we reduce the number of people Involved may help focus. Who is the Accountable parties involved? You have one Projet Manger who is responsible for scheduling, ordering materials and the go between with Clients. Having to delegate responsibility is key in getting projects completed on time. The more people involved without direction the more failure can happen.
So the Doers need the guidance from the Thinkers to accomplish the project.
I can tell you led many projects Tim. The question who’s responsible to perform the action and who’s accountable for the results may also be useful. Cheers
Wonder if some banks would still be open if this process had been followed?
Interesting thought. It might have helped. But greed is seductive.
Yet another post that has me looking for the hidden microphone in my office! I have a meeting scheduled this morning to discuss how to keep our projects moving forward, on the rails as you so aptly put it. I still haven’t found the mike, but posts like this that are so very spot-on for me make me wonder. Thanks, Dan, I’ll be using this list in the meeting.