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Jul 09

A Short (Anti)Guide to Derailing Any Project

How to derail any project?

Is work getting too smooth? Are your teams about to meet deadlines, or even worse, complete the tasks before they are due? Does everyone have a clear understanding of vision and goals? We got this covered! With this (anti)guide, you can turn the tides and derail the project, waste both the time and effort of everyone involved and miss both deadlines and goals—all of that in just a few simple steps.

Derail project by having no clear goals

Set no clear goals, have no clear vision

At the beginning of every project, managers and stakeholders usually set their goals and criteria for success and failure. The more specific and defined such elements are, the better the outcome can be, as the manager understands what needs to be done. The approach, in this case, is secondary as a well-defined project is hard to derail. 

That’s why in this (anti)guide we remind you to make the goals as broad and muddy as possible. Example? “System implementation.” There, that’s it. Teams must prepare a system that works but brings absolutely no value to the users, annoys everyone, and meets no needs. Of course, it is implemented. However, using it is a chore. Is it a successful implementation? If you just wanted to finish your project, then absolutely. But if you wanted to make something useful and valuable, then you failed, and that’s the whole point of this guide, isn’t it? 

Derail the project with lack of communication

Neglect even the most basic communication 

Every project manager must learn the most basic communication skills. Talking to the teams, passing the knowledge, understanding what part every person is doing, creating an environment of openness, and adjusting their method of communication to the people—that’s what a good manager does.  Hence, we must act in an opposite way. 

Berating people is always a “good” choice, especially for companies under Agile transformation. In this organization, everyone wants to be open, talk about issues, and flatten the hierarchy. It’s vital to hire a person that spent their whole life in a stiff, hostile environment to copy this attitude in our company. In 2021, everyone knows that threatening, shouting at, and criticizing someone in front of the whole team works miracles for the morale and productivity of everyone involved in this project. And the cherry on top is to inform people about important decisions post factum, ignore their needs and opinions, and promote silence over speaking out. 

Stick to the chosen approach at all costs…

Whether the approach is Classic, Agile, or Hybrid, each manager should read its manifesto or document. A careful reader will notice that most of those approaches include the golden rule: “to adapt”. The approaches are more like frameworks or canvases that help organize work but are flexible enough to meet the specific needs of teams and employees. A more liberal approach can be crucial for laying proper foundations for a whole project. 

Our answer to this is to completely ditch the “to adapt” part and blindly implement the chosen approach. Doesn’t it work as it is supposed to? Too bad, my team, we must follow the book! We can even move the budget from delivering actual value to make sure we stick to the rules. Projects failed? No added value achieved? Well, maybe we weren’t strict enough. Next time, we keep it even more strict; this will surely help. 

Derail the project with lack of framework

… or ditch it totally and improvise all the time

All the mentioned approaches have one common trait: they are designed to minimize the occurrence and impact of errors. That’s why at the beginning, the project is planned; the plan must go through different hands to be accepted, the budget is estimated, etc. This analysis allows pinpointing value and potential risks, preparing proper reactions, and allocating resources. 

According to a 2017 report from the Project Management Institute (PMI), 14 per cent of IT projects fail utterly. Meanwhile, 31 per cent don’t meet their goals, 43 per cent exceed their initial budgets, and 49 per cent are overdue. Our projects, of course, must be part of this majority, that’s the whole point of this (anti)guide. To make sure it happens, managers can implement an ad hoc management style and react only when something terrible happens. Everything is based on pure luck and instinct, with no framework or responses prepared. Stakeholders appreciate unpredictability and improvisation in business. That’s why the most prominent corporations have no goals, visions, or approaches—just pure luck and reacting to events instead of creating them.

Dismiss the risks 

Every approach treats risk seriously. Good project preparation includes the identification of risks and the definition of individual plans to tackle them. It is about having a set of specific tools to create a register of potential threats, respond to such threats, or even cut out a part of the project budget to manage risks if they occur. 

Risks and threats are so rare that they won’t happen to us, right? That’s why the best managers just copy the risk register from other projects (if the approach demands this kind of register) or completely ignore any threats. No one ever got burned because of that! Let’s dive into the project and see where it heads. 

Managers have many ways to derail their projects, but they can’t be caught off guard. Nowadays, a management philosophy that centers value over plans and parameters gains more and more popularity. Placing any usefulness in the first place is a deadly trap—we don’t want our project to come in handy for everyone, do we? “Good” managers care about completing a project and filling in the statistics, even if the results are useless – it’s the most important lesson to learn from this (anti)guide. Who needs value anyway, right?    

About The Author

Content Specialist @SoftwarePlant since 2021. He was previously working for the biggest media outlets in Poland, e.g., Wirtualna Polska, Rzeczpospolita, where he was writing about video games, biotechnology, and startups. Now he explores the vast world of Agile and Hybrid approaches. Loves good research, short sentences, and clear communication.