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Nightmare Project - Advice Sought

#1 Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
01/10/2013 11:19



Current firm is a small digital agency delivering web and ECM projects. Am working on a big client as hands on PM leading a team of 15 developers and testers. However there is an issue here that my background is more on the softer side of IT Consulting (Governance, Assurance, Bids, IT service PMO, workstream PM for a contract exit, blah blah blah). This is reflected in my job title and normal day to day responsibilities, but as we don't have the right resource I've taken on this role.


We are working with a Partner (so not directly negotiating with the customer) on an agile project that is fixed price go figure ..... Team is overloaded due to poor resourcing something we are working to fix.

Constantly changing delivery dates, meaning constantly changing priorities.

Boss who is from a technical background who is working on another project so it trying to remote manage me and the team, and it's not going well so lack of confidence is starting to show.

Actions so far:

I've told my boss I am not from a technical background, then spelt out my previous experience to reinforce the point which he finally seems to have taken on board. Basically a rallying call to ensure we keep supporting each other.

Working closely with the partner to ensure a suitable operational schedule that doesn't move.


Overall the actual team spirit is very good and we all work well together, but I am new at the firm and want to protect myself esp with the decision makers.

To be clear I'm an SC that has made Manager and yes this is my first project leading a team, so any guidance from more seasoned managers as to how I could go about making sure I come out of this looking good? Before you say it ........ yes I know delivering an agreed scope would help!

I guess ensuring the Partner backs my approach would be another.

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#2 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
01/10/2013 17:28

Bushy Eyebrow Partner to a07 (#1)

Yuck, it's an agile project being delivered to a fixed price. The problem lies with whoever sold that disaster in waiting.

My advice? Brush up the CV and get on the phone to some agencies. Even if you escape from this project unscathed, who wants to work for a company like that?

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#3 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
01/10/2013 20:51

Arby the Manager to Bushy Eyebrow Partner (#2)

Hi there a07 - firstly keep your spirits up - I believe you learn nothing from easy projects, and this one sounds like the University of Delivery! Some perspectives from my experience....(and my first project as a junior manager was especially difficult!)

Even though the responsibility might lie with the Partner who sold this project, I believe the problem is sitting with you (right or not). As you're in a stretch role, out of your comfort zone and (to avoid a third cliche) really doing something that is not in your natural skill set - then you need to bear in mind a few fundamentals which any project manager needs to know (which I learned from some of my mentors in my early career)

1. Change will kill you if it's not managed. Fixed price = fixed scope Read the contract and understand the scope of your delivery. Read the obligations on the client side, the timeframes to deliver. Manage change to the micro-detail. Put in place a process to review, prioritize, review and re-estimate any changes before modifying any planning.

2. Get the people and the team right. Make sure you have a technical lead who is properly estimating, ordering and planning the development activities for the developers. Assign a functional lead who is leading the product testing - have them both report to you and keep the circle of discussion small and focused. If you have someone who does not fit the bill in terms of skills or attitude, get rid of them as fast as possible and replace them with someone who can step up to the role. For yourself, play to your skills of governance, workstream PM and use those skills to get the project management tied down better than ever before.

3. Manage upwards as well as downwards. You may need to step up and take more autonomy since you are being managed remotely your boss (I'm unclear whether it's the partner who is the boss or whether they are two separate people). Remote management by someone who is not fully dedicated will only be a disaster. Take the initiative here and start to insist on staffing and organizing the team according to your instincts and what you believe will work. Give your boss a weekly update and "filter" (ahem) his requests. The more experienced you get, the more you will learn to tune out the white noise coming from above and focus upon what's really important in it all. To be honest I think he'll be overjoyed that he has less remote work to do.

4. You don't say whether you're also accountable for the CCi% on the project - if you are, then my advice is that it's better to stop, take account of the situation, get your foundations solid and then proceed (even with the hit on the CCi) then to proceed on a shaky basis and make a loss. You're going to take a hit either way - make sure you come out of it making a profit.

These are typical factors you need to bear in mind - then keep the usual focus upon quality and communication - upwards, downwards, to the client.

I won't be as cynical as I could be on this topic (given your level) - but I hope the above is at least some good guidance which might help you out.

Keep positive, learn and don't walk away just yet!


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#4 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
01/10/2013 21:49

detoilet Consultant to Arby the Manager (#3)


Spot on from Arby. To extend though on it go the extra mile working the client relationship. Take them for meals drinks and spend time getting to know their concerns, bottom line when and if it goes tits up or if it gets messy having the client in your corner is worth it's weight in gold but not in isolation hence follow Arby's advice also


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#5 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
01/10/2013 23:15

Bushy Eyebrow Partner to detoilet Consultant (#4)

Hmm, somehow I don't think that it's possible to emerge from this sort of project smelling of roses.

To me, it sounds like a train crash in slow motion. Trying to be the project hero and going the extra mile, building up personal relationships with the client and so on, is all very well but takes a lot of effort. Plus it doesn't sound like it's going to save the project anyway.

I'd work on an exit plan... Can you get pulled onto something else? Let some other sucker shoulder the burden of this one... it sounds like your (politically savvy?) bosses are doing that already...

What you definitely don't want is to end up as the guy who carries the can when it all goes wrong, just because you have the title of "project manager".

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#6 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
02/10/2013 08:10

Mr Cool to Arby the Manager (#3)

Hmmm. One note of clarification - fixed price does not mean fixed scope if you are using Agile. Agile is often used on web projects because it allows you to deliver quickly in multi-phased drops. The perceived advantage is that by the time the first drop has been delivered, the remaining req's can have their relative priorities updated due to changes in a fast moving competitive landscape.

As such, a fixed price is really a boxed-budget against which each drop draws down. As you deliver each drop you should be updating the client/partner on remaining budget and re-costing the next sprint based on actuals experienced in the preceding sprint.

Each sprint should deliver self contained value - so when you run out of budget, the project stops - unless further investment is forthcoming.

Of course, whenever I hear of an "agile" project that is in trouble, I tend to think that someone gas decided its Agile after the event, simply to justify the lack of rigour in defing req's, then completing design.

"Hey, it's Agile, we can go straight to building it!"

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#7 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
02/10/2013 12:51

a07 to Mr Cool (#6)

Hi All

Thanks for the advice project was definitely sold and accepted without due clarity or proper diligence. Specs have changed constantly but I've managed to baseline the version we are using now.

Biggest problem on this project is people ....... just to clarify by Partner I meant Delivery Partner (think French IT services firms like Steria, Atos etc) who sold the project and didn't have the skills in house so sub contracted the work to us. These are the guys trying to manage the client but badly, this isn't helped by my firm being a small setup with stretched resources.

Because my firm is small (completely different to my background in IT Services, Big 4 and Client Side), we normally have 90% of the team working on large projects such as this and send lone consultants on smaller projects with a blended client/delivery partner presence. Not something I can be involved in as the Consultants are Developers.

Leaving isn't really an option as I was made redundant twice in the last 2 years and I came here for the growth opportunities and stability (first child on the way). Guess I will stick with it, I have already implemented a change request process but building bridges is difficult with the client when they are French and there is no budget for travel or entertainment due to the project being loss making. Thankfully this is my boss's area (which probably explains why he is so twitchy)!

Anyway on a positive note the last Sprint was delivered to an agreed scope, and this one should be fine I'll just have to filter out the noise and manage everyone. Whoever said Consulting isn't fun ....

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#8 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
04/11/2013 17:17

a07 to a07 (#7)

Just an update on this .... put in place more robust change control and better comms including more regular visits to the client. So result = a 2 year extension pending final approval which would triple the size of the firm I work for. Don't quite know how we managed it!

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#9 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
05/11/2013 09:20

Bushy Eyebrow Partner to a07 (#8)

Well done for single-handedly trebling the size of your company!

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#10 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
05/11/2013 10:24

a07 to Bushy Eyebrow Partner (#9)

Thanks BEP (sarcasm not sure but anyway) no was way it single handed all the team worked incredibly hard. From my perspective managing a team of 15 was interesting enough, going to 45 will be a new challenge. See how it goes!

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#11 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
05/11/2013 10:32

Bushy Eyebrow Partner to a07 (#10)

I'm sure it will be a rocky and emotional journey, culminating in huge success!

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#12 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
06/02/2014 16:04

a07 to Bushy Eyebrow Partner (#11)

So despite the project's success I find myself being managed out of the company primarily due to my line manager.

Just thought I'd get some advice because my CV has been a bit rocky of the last few years. 1 year at a big 4, 10 months in industry before being made redundant, followed by a 6 month contract in industry, then 1 year at this software firm.

Wondering if I could pass these off as contracts or whether that would not be wise?

Two how viable a move back to industry or a boutique consultancy would be. The only firm I wanted to leave was the big4 but it does seem like a series of disastrous moves particularly when I planned to stay longer at each place.

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#13 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
06/02/2014 21:05

Arby the Manager to a07 (#12)

I'll ask the obvious question - why are they managing you out?

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#14 RE: Nightmare Project - Advice Sought
06/02/2014 21:26

a07 to Arby the Manager (#13)

Hi Arby

I stepped in as technical pm as a stop gap until we found the right resource and admittedly it didn't go well (despite me informing them I'd have to learn on the job as it's a different skillet) this has been pinned against me.

After that they decided to slate all the rest of my work (which has been fine - proposals and more on the functional side off the project).

In reality it's because my line manager is impossible to please (my 2 predecessors left within 6 months of joining the firm).

FYI this is only the second time in 8 years I've had any trouble with a line manager.

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