There are a few reoccurring themes in project recovery; Hold Fast, Don’t Flinch, Lead calmly, and of course the old stand by … decide slowly but act quickly. Troubled projects are ripe with Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (affectionately known as FUD). Our job, like it or not, isn’t just creating and delivering a solution but also to fight the FUD.
Fear in a troubled project is both motivator and obstacle. It is not uncommon for fear to be used as a weapon against the team and the customer. Most leaders who extort others are generally unaware of the effect they are having. They mean well, yet their actions and words come off as just mean. The customer begins to fear complete failure and its effect on their own careers and credibility. The team usually responds by fracturing into tribes, shunting communication, redirecting blame, and generally assuming delivery isn’t possible, instead spending their time on survival.
Uncertainty is more insidious. Unclear goals, a staple of modern system development, mix with unclear direction to create a cloud of ambiguity. So called hard deadlines are missed without repercussion while unstated, seemingly unimportant, low level details set off a fire storm of retribution. The rules, if there ever were any, are tossed aside for a kind of anarchy. Anyone could be in charge, and anyone could derail the team. Uncertainty takes the fun out of everything. Mondays are met with dread. Meetings are missed. Schedules slip. And all the while no one knows why.
While fear and uncertainty are evil in many ways, Doubt is by far the most dangerous. Doubt requires a mere statement from a trusted source made with conviction and certainty to heard by someone who accepts it at face value. A senior team member might be overheard saying; "There’s no way this is going to work." in a break room by a more junior person. It doesn’t matter that the statement was about microwaving jelly beans. The credibility of the source makes the statement true. Although born out of context it is more likely than not be repeated … spreading doubt. Worse yet, the unwitting leadership is suddenly faced with a team that thinks the recently agreed upon statements of success were lies, and the leaders may never know why the teams attitude began its downward spiral.
Recovery is as much about the human factors as the technical ones. Of course you have to be good at the technology. You must be able to leverage your experience delivering successfully in the past and you must have a broad array of process and practices to apply throughout the lifecycle of the project. It’s just not enough unless you can apply all of those things in such a way as to reduce if not eliminate fear, remove uncertainty, and help those who doubt see the inevitability of success.