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Ain’t Doin’ Right:
Diagnosing Project Ailments

By Bill Flury

Have you ever had a pet dog or cat or bird that wasn’t acting like its usual self? You probably asked it what was the problem and you never got back a Woof, Meow or Tweet about what their problem was. So, you took your ailing pet to the veterinarian. After listening to you describe how your pet was acting the vet probably said, “Your pet has ADR.”

Wow! Sounds bad! But wait, what is ADR? The vet explains to you that ADR is the most common complaint that owners bring in about their pets. It is a summary of what a pet owner has observed but has not been able to interpret about what is wrong with the pet. Spelled out, the acronym means “Ain’t Doin’ Right”. It’s not at all precise but it is enough to get started on finding out the real problem.

Take Your Project to a Vet

There can be days when your project team looks and acts just like an ailing pet. You see a lack of energy, unwillingness of some team members to talk about what they are doing, and a tendency to go off into corners and avoid others. You sense that something is wrong but it’s not obvious. Those are the signs that your team has ADR. It’s a clear indication that it’s time for you to find someone who can work with you like an animal vet, do some serious diagnosis work, find out what is causing your project’s ADR, and help you figure out how to treat it. You need a Project Vet.

Dealing with ADR

My uncle lived on a farm and he rarely went to a doctor when he was feeling bad. He preferred to visit the vet because he figured that vets were better at diagnosing problems. When he went to a regular doctor the doctor would just ask him what he thought was the problem, give him a quick check to see if that seemed right. Then, he would give him something for that and that was that.

It’s different for pets and vets. The pets can’t tell the vet what’s bothering them and the owner can only voice an opinion. The vet has to dig into the situation, figure out what is wrong and then, determine what has to be done to fix it. That’s the same for you and your project. Neither you nor your project team can say what’s wrong so the vet has to figure it out for you.

A vet looking at a pet with ADR will proceed by examining the patient directly for outwardly observable possible causes (e.g., a hidden sore or a strained tendon). If nothing shows up from that, the vet will then check more deeply into the possible causes of the problem. Could it be a food or feeding problem – is the pet getting enough of the right food? Might it be an environment problem – is the pet too cold or hot, bothered by noise or isolation? Perhaps it could be a relationship problem – interaction with other pets or with the owner. A good vet will pursue all of these avenues to find out why your pet Ain’t Doin’ Right. That’s what you want your Project Vet to do for you and your project.

A Good Project Vet

When you are looking for a Project Vet you want to try to find one who has trained like an animal vet. Animal vets gain experience by working with many different species (e.g., gerbils, cats, dogs, chickens, horses, turtles). A good Project Vet will have gotten that experience by working with many different kinds of projects. Some of those projects may have been small and short-lived, like gerbils. Others may have had longer lives and been sheltered like turtles. Some may have had the discipline of a well-trained show horse or service dog. And then, there are also projects that have the unpredictable or inscrutable temperaments of cats or chickens. A good Project Vet will have seen them all.

A good Project Vet will not only have worked with different kinds of projects but will also have worked inside them. Animal vets train by doing dissections and post-mortems. A good Project Vet will have been on the inside and will have seen how the components are connected and how they flex under different stimuli.

From the inside, the Project Vet will also have observed the functioning of the different senses. An experienced Project Vet will know how teams and team members react to what they see and hear officially and via the rumor mill and how they feel about their work and their work hours and physical working environment. Animal reactions to thunder, lightning, heat and cold have equivalents in the project environment. A flash of rumors followed by rumbles of concern can be scary. The heat from the pressure of too tight deadlines can fray nerves. The cold chill of isolation from any management attention may cause a team to shiver and shake. The similarities of animal and team responses to these factors is remarkable.

Animals react in different ways to different foods. They may spurn food they don’t like or scarf down their favorite. Project teams react in different ways to the kinds of work they are fed and how it is presented. An exceptional Project Vet also understands how project teams react to the “smell and taste” of the work they are doing and can figure out the different likes and dislikes of different types of project teams and how the “feedings” may need to be adjusted.

A good Project Vet also knows from personal experience the way project team members react to the way they are treated by their “owner” (i.e., management). They react poorly to being confined or being held on to short a leash, being given harsh or conflicting commands, and being left alone and isolated for a long time. On the other hand, they respond well to attention, praise for good behavior and consistent, caring treatment.

Projects have life cycles, just like animals. They start out needing lots of parenting. They may stumble and fall, get some scrapes and just need some TLC or a Band-Aid© to get over it. Then, they begin to function on their own. When they hit their teens they may get a bit frisky and need a little extra discipline to keep from getting into trouble.

Mature animals and mature projects usually get past their teen years and become fully productive. Then, as they reach the final stages of their life they can become a bit creaky and cranky. They may need some rejuvenating treatments to continue operating or, they may need assistance to reach a graceful end.

A good Project Vet will have been through many of those cycles with many different kinds of projects, will be able to look at your project and tell you how old it is in “Project Years,” and will know how it should be functioning at that stage of life and what treatments will be most effective at each stage.

When Your Project Has ADR

When your project is not going well your first reaction may be to try to figure it out on your own. You may have some ideas about the problem and start looking for a specialist to help you cure it. That’s not a good approach. That’s like working with a regular doctor. Whatever specialist you choose will listen to you describe the problem, help you confirm that, and give you a prescription to cure it. That’s not what you need.

You need a special kind of help. – not a specialist to agree with you on what you think is wrong — you may be part of the problem. You need to go find a good Project Vet who will do a complete check-up of both you and your project.

When you go looking for a Project Vet, look for one with these good characteristics:

• Has worked with many different species of projects

• Is great at observation and diagnosis – when the patient(s) can’t express what’s wrong

• Knows how projects work on the inside

• Understands how project teams react to different outside stimuli

• Knows how projects function at different stages of life

• Understands you, your project, and your relationship with your project

When you get a good Project Vet you are “Doin’ Right” about your project that “Ain’t Doin’ Right”.

Have you ever had to break down and seek the advice of your own “Project Vet”? Tell us about it!

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