Published here September 1, 2011


Musings Index

Sightings of Lessons Learned

It is always interesting to hear what people have to say about their project experiences, but it is not always clear what lessons one should take away from their observations. Here are some sightings found in the Project Management Institute's publication PMnetwork - and our own conclusions.

Fast and Furious Works Better
(PMnetwork, August 2010, p35)

BNP Paribas Fortis, a strong Belgian Bank looking to expand offered to merge with ABN Amro, a bank that was not doing very well. The idea behind the process of merger was to evaluate what each player brought to the table and make choices based on extensive communication and brainstorming amongst the employees. The top technologies from each company could then be selected resulting in a best-of-breed blend. Unfortunately it didn't work out due to serious cultural conflicts resulting in Fortis themselves going bankrupt. The Belgian government bailed out Fortis and sold it to the French bank BNP Paribas.

Lesson learned: According to Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, one-time program manager of strategic projects at BNP Paribas Fortis: "A friendly merger is noble in principle, but it's also the most difficult to accomplish. If we had imposed our culture on them, it would have been more successful."

MW: In other words: "Damn the Torpedoes"![1]

Projects on the sick list, benefitting the wrong stakeholders
(PMnetwork, March 2010, p11)

According to David U. Himmelstein, MD, the lead author of a 2009 study of computerization projects and outcomes at approximately 4000 US hospitals between 2003 and 2007: "Predictions of cost savings and efficiency improvements from the widespread adoption of computers are premature at best. One of the reasons the projects are in critical condition is that the systems are designed to meet the needs of accountants and managers [and] not the everyday users. You spend $25 million on the system itself and hire anywhere from a couple of dozen to a thousand people to run the system. And for doctors, generally, it increases [their] time they spend [inputting data]."

Lesson for project managers: Not only do you need to listen to your stakeholders, you need to listen to the right stakeholders!

Responsible communication

"Making a noise or sending an Email is not true communication. Communication is a two-way process to build a common understanding. Without that understanding it is impossible to agree, or disagree, or resolve anything," says Lynda Bourne, DPM, PMP, Managing Director Stakeholder Management pty Ltd, Australia. Readers should heed the words of Lewis Carroll's 1872 classic Through the Looking Glass: "When I use a word it means exactly what I choose it to mean - nothing more and nothing less."

Lesson learned: Lynda Bourne might well have added that it is the responsibility of the communicator and not the communicatee to ensure that the message is understood.

MW: And perhaps the parties should also be reminded to refer to the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms for appropriate interpretation!

The lesson of two rabbits (or maybe three) for project portfolio managers
(PMnetwork January 2010, p26)

Alfonso Bucero, MSc, PMP, an independent consultant and periodic column writer in the PMnetwork writes: "My father once told me, 'If you try and catch two rabbits at the same time, both will escape'. At the beginning of my career as a project manager, I was responsible for three projects that unfolded simultaneously. They weren't overly complex projects, but they needed time, effort and focus. The executive team didn't have a good grasp of project management and thought I'd be able to chase 'three rabbits at the same time'".

Lessons learned: Alfonso doesn't disclose whether all three "rabbits" (projects) escaped, but he does offer this advice:

  • Start your day by prioritizing your tasks. Put the most urgent and important work at the top of the list.
  • Play to your strengths. Make a list of the four things that you do well in your job.
  • Outsource your weaknesses. Get other people to do the things you do not do well.
  • Create an edge. Rethink how you do things and be willing to make sacrifices.
  • Find the right people. Join positive people with a commitment to improve.

MW: Of course, it also helps if the people you choose also know how to accomplish the work involved!

1. For those not familiar with this phrase, "DAMN THE TORPEDOES," was the reply by Union Adm. David Glasgow Farragut to a warning of the dangerous proximity of submerged torpedoes (now called mines) at the critical juncture of the Battle of Mobile Bay (5 August 1864). As the Union fleet approached the harbor entrance, which was known to be nearly closed by mines, the monitor Tecumseh struck a mine and immediately sank. The following ships closed into a disordered group while heavy crossfire from the Confederate fleet and forts threatened them with early defeat. Farragut, in the flagship Hartford, took the lead, signaling the fleet to follow, and steamed safely through the minefields into the harbor. Dictionary of American History. 2003. Retrieved January 05, 2012 from
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