“Honesty is the best policy.” This saying, made famous in Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, has provided many with a motto to live by, as well as something they can use to educate and inspire others. In today’s “Lesson Learned” Henry Chuks tells us about how he learned about the value of this saying from a single project disaster.

Henry is a Senior Project and Program Manager and founder of Gorilla Theory Labs. Gorilla Theory is a new business process framework that helps people maximize project success.

Project Management Lesson Learned: Honesty Is The Best Policy

By Henry Chuks

I have learned from project disasters and from personal performance problems that HONESTY is a key tool in performance improvement, and in avoiding project delivery disasters, and achieving project delivery success.

The eureka moment for Gorilla Theory came while I was on a global project for a large soft drink brand. They were seeking to launch a social networking hub making use of crowd funding (in terms of voting and likes) and with celebrity endorsements (2 celebrities in particular who regularly feature in the lists for ‘world’s most influential’). I thought it would be a very cool project, with the product being rolled out in Brazil and Venezuela, Russia, Sweden, Italy, the UK, Turkey and more countries. Great for my CV…or so I thought.

I joined the project very late. At the stage I joined, we were supposed to be completing the beta build before implementing 3rd-party voucher redemption, working out testing and then training schedules before having workshops with the first territories launching their versions of the hub.

What I found was a mess. An offshore development team was busily building the beta platform whilst a user experience team was still defining the core elements of the user journey. The voucher redemption and game mechanic had not even been settled upon! The design team was designing the site and the designs were changing daily because the client and the internal management team kept changing their minds. This was all happening near the Christmas period and the very basic project plan had not taken into account Christmas downtime more potential development and testing days lost but not accounted for! I gathered as much information as I could as to what the intentions were for the end product, how much time and budget was left, what skills and resources were required, and what was realistically left to do.

It was apparent to me that the target of releasing the platform to the first markets in little over a month was absolutely impossible and so I brought my findings to the internal project board. I gave them the uncomfortable news without attempting to dress it up. I told them frankly that they needed to stop the project immediately and to assess my findings and agree a way forward with the 3rd-parties and the client’s stakeholders in order to stop bleeding budget and to inform the waiting territories (who were hiring staff, planning advertising, redemption routes, and paying for TV advertising slots in advance of their intended launch dates).

My advice was not taken and the project moved forward like a car crash in slow motion. I could clearly see the impending horror, but the internal senior management chose not to be honest and to admit to themselves and the client that the project was in a very bad way and that we needed to arrest the problem and get a strong foothold before continuing.

This project was the best professional example I have that shows that there is a fear of communicating bad news to stakeholders. Whether it is to save face or to attempt to blame another party, it usually causes more pain in the end.

I heard that the project did end in a ball of flame and the flames travelled all the way to the courtroom (ongoing apparently). When you consider that millions of pounds were at stake, you can understand the magnitude. Honesty at every level from the scoping of a project to the estimating of how long tasks should take, to giving an true status when it comes to problems is very professional and shows integrity.

The sooner problems are found and tackled, the better for the project. Finding the problems is only part of the battle, bringing them to the attention of the relevant people and effecting decisive and positive action is the next battle, and honesty is a key weapon in this fight.

Henry Chuks, Senior Project and Program Manager / Founder of Gorilla Theory
Website: http://www.gorillatheory.com/
Twitter: @gorillatheory

This “Lessons Learned” series is published every Tuesday. If you have learned an important lesson in project management I would love for you to share it! Send your stories to kim[at]onedesk[dot]com.

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