The Cost of a New Project Manager’s Failure

Author: · April 22, 2009 · Filed Under Thoughts  - 1 Comment(s)

Paul Glen says, on tech republic, that project managers need failure.  But how to estimate the cost of such failures.  Obviously, don’t put the new project manager on a critical project so there is not a huge loss to the company.

“Nothing succeeds like success, except in project management where nothing succeeds like failure. Managing an IT project is very difficult, especially the first time you try it. The project manager’s days and nights are filled with stress, worry, dreams, aspirations, and fear. Some first timers are overwhelmed by their newfound power, while some are weighed down by the responsibility. But for most, the overriding concern is to avoid both personal and project failure.

This fear is often instilled and/or reinforced by the project manager’s supervisor. The new assignment is often initiated with comments like, “Don’t screw this up.” “This is your big chance to shine.” Or, “don’t make me look bad and regret giving you this opportunity.” Trust me, those sorts of comments really help first timers succeed.

For the project manager, this sort of fear is not only counterproductive, but also misplaced. In fact, I think that every first time project manager desperately needs to fail. That’s right. I’m not just saying that it’s ok to fail; I’m saying that if they don’t fail, they may never learn to be effective project managers. In fact, complete success may set their management careers back by years.”

So what is the cost of that failure…  Lost effort, schedule, opportunity costs of doing something successful, loss of the ROI of the unsuccessful project.  Big numbers.  So… if you are letting a project manager build a project so he or she can fail… have a second team build one that will work.. or make sure it is not a mission critical project.

I must say I cant think of a project in my career that has failed, assuming failure means never delivered the required functionality.  Some took longer… were challenged. Some we worked a lot of overtime.  But we never failed to deliver.  Certainly there were smaller failures along the way:  schedule slips, deferred functionality, etc.  So what is the cost of little stepwise failures.  Some of those are inherent in IT projects.  So I suppose the cost of those is zero.


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