„Fail-Safe Management: Five Rules to Avoid Project Failure” by Jody Zall Kusek and Marelize Goergens Prestidge

New to the job, I had a silent prayer in my head: “Please don’t let me fail”. This fear of failure was almost paralyzing. I only conquered it when i learned to learn from failures. It took a number of failures to get there. Then I learned that i am not alone thanks to a number of books, among which a World Bank publication i would like to share with you.

Fail safe mngt

The book gives insights into five rules the authors advise to follow for a fail-safe project management:

Rule 1. Make it about how.

Rule 2. Keep your champions close and your critics closer.

Rule 3. Informal networks matter – use them.

Rule 4. Unclog the pipes.

Rule 5. Build the ship as it sails.

This book is both a good acquisition and an inspiration. It might not be eye-opening on all accounts (as it depends on your level and extent of project management experience) but it still contains a number of important lessons to take away for mindful managers. Here are a couple of mine:

A. In many cases failure is „baked into” the project almost from the start by managers and team members who simply fail to be mindful of the details and who focus on avoiding the obvious problem spots that any project will face as it goes along.

B. „Build the ship as it sails” suggests to start on a smaller scale and pilot whenever possible. Keep learning.

C. The definition of success will vary, depending on who assesses it. Making a difference to people on the ground is a mark for projects making progress in development.

D. Regardless of whether the stakeholder is a champion or a critic, these relationships must be managed to avoid project failure (the book includes a tool to manage stakeholders relations).

***

It would be rather boring, I would say, to have a fail-proof project.  From time to time I let some failures occur. For a variety of reasons. One of not-so-distant-in -time failures of mine was to draft the project’s work plan based on an overly estimated partner’s commitment. An unexpected management change in the partner organisation demanded a serious rethinking of the implementation approach through for example resource- consuming  alliance building and bottom-up approaches. I have on my desk a brochure with the nice faces of the previous management of the partner to remind me not to let my over-optimistic outlook to take over pragmatism in project planning.

Failures are the learner’s best friends in projects life and in time i learned to identify and address them. Reasons for failures in projects are multiple and the approaches to deal with them differ. They therefore deserve a separate post, to which i’ll return. In the meantime, a fail-safe and learning rich project management!

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