Few are "joining the dots" to understand that the orthodox way we approach and deliver projects is incomplete. Some of the "dots" are missing, some are not working, and some are actually destroying value.

A few years ago I watched a program on obese children in Los Angles. The parents were worried about the fact that their children were obese, the children were worried and the health authorities were worried.

So what was the cause?

It transpired that most of these children were from poor, single parent families (so over-indulging in food was not one of the reasons). The parents often had two and sometimes three jobs so as to keep their heads above water. Money was tight.

Then they discovered that because time was also tight, due to the multiple jobs, the parents tended to bring home ‘take-away’ food — pizzas, fried chicken, 'maccas'. In fact, the staple diet of these children was junk food, provided as a result of the parent’s a lack of time and energy to cook good meals.

But, although everyone knew that the children were eating junk food most nights of the week, they had not joined the dots to realize that this was leading to them being obese.

It sounds obvious but time shortages, money shortages, junk food, obese children – were all seen as parallel issues, not part of the same problem.

This example illustrates how easily we can segment in our mind different concurrent events and not see them as connected, as part of the same process, as related or as cause and effect.

Another example from my own life.

For years I drank normal black tea with a slice of lemon. Only much later did I ‘join the dots’ and realize that I drank this tea with lemon because….I did not like the taste of the tea! So, sometimes we need the ‘dots’ joined for us.

In the investment and value delivery management world…

  • We have project management methods — yet most projects continue to fail on one or more dimensions.
    Connection denied – the problem must be elsewhere. 
  • We plan and manage projects to deliver ‘capabilities’ that the business then has to turn into results — yet the business does not get the results it desires.
    Connection denied – it must be a change management problem.
  • We have risk management methodologies — yet projects are still undermined by unforeseen or unmanaged risks.
    Connection denied — they’re now called ‘black swan’ events to explain them away.
  • We obsess on costs, controlling costs, reporting costs — yet the business value from projects consistently fails to materialize as promised.
    Connection denied – the reaction is that we must need to control the costs even better.
  • We don’t have effective benefits realization management processes and we don’t seem to get the benefits we expect from projects.
    Connection denied — must be a business commitment or measurement failing.

It appears that no one is joining the dots that show that the orthodox way we approach and deliver projects is incomplete.

We need to start joining the dots and realize that some of the ‘dots’ are missing, some are not working, and some are actually destroying value.

Let’s take some belief “dots” that are commonly used to drive projects.

  • We have change managers and change processes, yet people resist change.
    Connection denied – “people automatically resist change” is now an accepted ‘truth’ but is actually a nonsense.
  • We have business analysts and a Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), yet the business cannot define its requirements effectively.
    Connection denied — you should “change your business to fit the software” is the mantra.

But what if we challenged these beliefs and asked whether the change processes we are using actually create the resistance to change they are addressing? Whether the approaches business analysts use are the reason we fail to effectively identify business requirements?

Perhaps we need to join the dots to see that some of the commonly accepted solutions to project performance are not only not working but also are the cause of the problem and we need to do something else.

Surely, if we continue to use junk-food equivalent processes, we will continue to deliver poor project results for an obese cost.

We need to refocus, find and join all of the dots to identify what we need to change to consistently deliver in full the available business results and returns from projects.

Topics: Project Controls, Change Management, Program / Project delivery, Mental Models, Beliefs and Myths

Further Reading



[1] ...

Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (May 2012) as "Joining The Dots For Success"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections