Define doubt, uncertainty for best project results

Recent experiences with project management led me to find new meaning in the following quotation by Vroomfondel, a minor philosopher character in Douglas Adams’ 1979 novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.”

Projects are late and go over budget because we don’t know what we are doing. If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t call it a project — we’d call it work, like bookkeeping. And if we really liked what we were doing, we’d call it fun, like being paid to eat chocolate.

Therefore, the fact that IT projects go over budget shouldn’t be any surprise. No project goes as planned and IT is consistently in trouble for this.

But what I want to know is what industry can plan better than IT.

Somehow people have the impression that construction projects are on time. Well, I have a friend who’s been waiting a year (and has already sold her house) to get into a seniors’ residence. I’d say that project’s definitely not on time and likely not on budget.

For more excitement, take the Richmond Airport Vancouver Rapid Transit (RAV) Project. This is a transit line linking downtown Vancouver to the airport, built primarily so the city will not look idiotic during the 2010 Winter Olympics. I have visions of the project failing due to a disagreement about the colour of cars and Vancouver needing to hire 8,000 rickshaw drivers to transport all the athletes to sports venues.

Before RAV even started, it was off schedule.

The group of local politicians who rubber stamped the project kept rejecting it and then voted on it over and over until the plan was approved. Surely, this churn wasn’t intentional. It caused a delay, which led the project team to change the creation of the tunnel from a totally underground activity to a rip-the-top-off-the-road, dig-a-hole-and-put-it-back process (or, “cut-and-cover,” as they call it, which is apparently faster and cheaper). Of course, merchants on the streets under which RAV was to go were expecting far less disruption and have since gone to court.

I would love to see the task entries in the project plan that allowed for that mess to happen. Even better, imagine the drama that would unfold if they dug up mammoth bones in the middle of the route.

IT often blames project delays on the use of new technology. This is a bogus argument because the people-related project management issues mentioned in Frederick Brooks’ book The Mythical Man-Month are the same now as they were in 1975.

But, if you accept the new technology argument, it makes traditional industries look worse. You may recall that other Canadian cities, including Vancouver, have built subway lines. Therefore RAV should be a no-brainer, right? Trust me — everyone in B.C. is waiting for the “RAV a gagillion dollars over budget” headlines with sub-headlines reading something like, “New government blames outgoing hose bags for cost overruns.”

We must embrace Vroomfondel’s concept of rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty — right away. The project management office (PMO) is the best place to put boundaries around doubt and uncertainty. PMOs are expected to analyse a broad spectrum of projects and predict the results. This, of course, is impossible. Most project leaders are lying to themselves and subsequently to the PMO.

If it’s impossible to predict how a project will flow, you will at least be better off working toward reducing doubt and uncertainty.

— Ford is a project manager in Vancouver who is thinking of investing in tarot cards. Contact him at [email protected].

Quick Link 058534

Would you recommend this article?


Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think of this article!
We'd love to hear your opinion about this or any other story you read in our publication.

Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

Featured Download

Featured Articles

Empowering the hybrid workforce: how technology can build a better employee experience

Across the country, employees from organizations of all sizes expect flexibility...

What’s behind the best customer experience: How to make it real for your business

The best customer experience – the kind that builds businesses and...

Overcoming the obstacles to optimized operations

Network-driven optimization is a top priority for many Canadian business leaders...

Thriving amid Canada’s tech talent shortage

With today’s tight labour market, rising customer demands, fast-evolving cyber threats...

Staying protected and compliant in an evolving IT landscape

Canadian businesses have changed remarkably and quickly over the last few...

Related Tech News

Tech Jobs

Our experienced team of journalists and bloggers bring you engaging in-depth interviews, videos and content targeted to IT professionals and line-of-business executives.

Tech Companies Hiring Right Now