Anatomy of Failure – The Project Manager

Analytical projects are some of the most complex projects around.  It is possible to research buzz-words on the internet and to then cobble an extremely plausible resume.  I have seen analytical “Gods” who at interview were not able to log into to the application.

Businesses with little or no analytical experience can not easily sift the wheat from the chaff and it can take up to 3 months or more to realise the limitations of analytical resources brought in as experts.

The most important of these resources is the Project Manager.  In many cases, the Project Manager may not have the skills required to drive the project through to an assured success.

In between 17% and 25% of projects, success will be achieved and any skill insufficiencies will never surface.  In the remainder of projects however, there will be substantial project failure.  The more intelligent of these nominal project managers may leave the project before failure becomes visible and in some cases, they have made a very successful career simply by identifying the correct time to leave.  “The project was fine when I left!”.

So how do you identify a project manager who can lead your analytical project to success?  What attributes should he or she have?

One of the most important attributes is communication.  Can the Project Manager communicate with a wide variety of business personnel to establish requirements, challenge requirements where necessary and ensure that business analysis is appropriate and pragmatic? Can he or she manage the stakeholders effectively and ensure that expectations are managed and fulfilled? Does the track record reflect this over say a decade?

Closely related is presence or gravitas.  Can the project manager stand in front of a steering or board level group of executives and explain to them that the product salesman has sold them pie in the sky and that their expectations have now to be realigned with reality?

The ability to create a project plan is good; but the ability to create an achievable project plan is far better.  Many project managers do not know how to calculate the probability of achieving a project plan on time and within budget.  There are statistical techniques well known since the 1950s that precisely identify the probability of a project moving according to plan.  However, these techniques also depend on an understanding of which elements of work are the riskiest and should be weighted most heavily; this knowledge depends on a very detailed understanding of the processes involved in an analytical project during the different phases.

Therefore a technical project manager who has ideally been involved in all tiers of the project roles is more strongly correlated with project success.  An important attribute is therefore technical skill.  Can the Project Manager sit down and develop at each and every part of the analytical application stack?  Can he or she write complex sql?  Can he or she run an ETL process?  Has he or she performed full and complex dimensional modelling in the recent past?

Track record can identify this quite easily.  How many analytical projects has the project manager recovered in the last ten years?

Common sense is unfortunately quite rare.  Does the project manager understand Pareto’s principle and can he or she apply it to the project?

Does the project manager understand operational statistics?  What is the difference between inferential and non-inferential statistics?  How many test cases should be undertaken to achieve Sigma 3 confidence levels in testing?  What is GLM and how does it relate to analytical modelling?

Data Security is one of the most important and abused aspects of analytical projects.  Factors such as regulatory, cross-border, location, position, departmental, cost centre and many to many security relationships means that Data Security is a minefield.  Can the Project Manager show at least five years track record in performant data security?

Resource selection.  Can the Project Manager recruit and employ only the best resources? Say Sigma 3 resources?

And finally track record.  There are many further indefinables.  A consistent and reasonable duration track record is really the most important indicator of future project success.

Don’t worry if your project does not have these skills on board.  You still stand a 20% chance of success.

One thought on “Anatomy of Failure – The Project Manager”

  1. You are so awesome! I do not think I’ve read anything like this before.
    So great to find someone with a few genuine thoughts on this
    subject. Really.. many thanks for starting this up.
    This web site is one thing that’s needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!

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