By Charles Villanyi Bokor
The CERP Group
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Aim of the Study (Issue): To advance the knowledge that Project Leaders need in order to be able to develop extremely large and complex projects and examine how the size of a project impacts the development methodology and the project governance needed to develop and deploy it. To explore the scalability of current methodologies, as well as the implications of ignoring project size when using development methodologies in their standard forms and by extension inspire future reflections to pro-actively prevent size induced project failures.
Lessons to Learn:
- Projects have grown in size and the effort needed to develop them and have also become complex not just complicated;
- The standard project development methodology is not scalable and has to be customized when used to develop enormously large projects.
- BHPs are unique and current standard project management methodology and capabilities are inadequate to develop them and consequently BHPs are designed to fail.
Key Words: super-sized project, sub-project, enable, black hole project, project manager, project management, project leader, success criteria, paradigm shift, governance.
According to common belief, a project is a temporary endeavour. It has a defined problem to solve, a specific deliverable, a start date, a few stakeholders, an end-date, and an allocated budget that is based on the estimated schedule, the selected solution and the development team. This idea served its purpose in the ‘70s and ‘80s when application system specifications were written ‘over coffee’ on a napkin, when application system were coded in COBOL or FORTRAN, were developed on and ran on mainframe computers to automate specific operational procedures.
Some application system development projects today are very large, cost millions of dollars to develop, use many people with different skills and take years to deploy. Their primary focus is not efficiency but to change a paradigm and enable the organization to reach its strategic objectives. Some of these very large projects evolve into larger than very large projects, which are different from the projects of old. These larger than very large projects have to be developed in a modified/customized development environment, using a customized project management methodology, and an adaptive and iterative systems design and development lifecycle (SD²LC). They will cost much more than the originally allocated budget and/or take longer than the established schedule, will not meet all the usual or all the initial success criteria and will make the measuring of their success as challenging as developing the project itself. We will call these projects Super Sized Projects (SSP).
In the last two decades, the size of some SSPs exceeded all upper bounds. These projects have very large number of stakeholders, many different requirements and expected outcomes, unmanageably large development teams and a governance structure that becomes purely administrative. These innovative, enormous and larger than very large projects are conceived to impact the organization in such fundamental way(s) that most operational people reject them, even if they do not admit to their views. These totally overwhelming, all consuming, centers of the organization’s focus are analogous to the most exciting concept in the universe and so we call this third type of project a Black Hole Project (BHP).
Developing BHPs in general, has proven to be beyond the capability of organizations using standard project management methodologies. They end up costing several times more than their poorly estimated and allocated initial budgets, last beyond their established development schedules, have on-going changes to their requirements, their design and the solution, as an integral part of the system design and development life cycle, and do not meet the success criteria that was set at the start. In short, using the present approach, BHPs are not viable projects, we do not know how to develop them and hence, they fail by design.
Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper has been previously published in Software Quality Professional VOL. 17, NO 2/ March 2015; Business Systems Laboratory, International Symposia Proceedings January 2015; Requirements Network Group (RQNG), Nov 2012; and fmi*igf Journal, VOL 23, NO 1, 2011. It is republished here with the author’s permission.
About the Author
Charles Villanyi Bokor is a Strategic Management Consultant focused on Leading to Better Decisions. Principal activities include Business Transformation, Problem Project Recovery & Leadership, Strategic Planning. Charles works mostly in Ottawa but has successfully completed assignments in Florida, Wales, Malaysia, Sweden and Australia, and was key-note speaker in Johannesburg South Africa and Victoria BC. Formal education includes an Executive Development and Diploma in Management (McGill University), M.Sc. Mathematics (Université de Grenoble, and U. de Montréal) and B. Sc. Mathematics (Concordia University). He was: Program Director of the Corporate Performance Management Program, Sprott, Carleton; Director of IS/IM at Royal Trust; and at Northern Telecom; CMC; CMC Board Member; PMI-OVOC Board Member; Governor of ICCC; is ITIL Certified and a TBS Independent Project Reviewer. Charles can be contacted at email@example.com