Menno Huijben
Aug 6, 2012
Posted in category: 2012 Member Articles

The Ostrich index

There are those ICT projects running late, blowing budgets, and saddling end-users with flawed functionality. And there are those many explanations at the end to vindicate the failures.

But, I see one major root cause why some ICT projects fail. That is, to quote the title of an interesting book related to this subject, Willful Blindness. (Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan).

If all the stakeholders in the project would be honest and objective, the project effort would be more accurately estimated, the risks well assessed, the expected impact objectively calculated, and the visions drafted more realistically.

This is of course utopia. Each stakeholder drives its own agenda –consciously or subconsciously. Here some examples:

A business owner strongly believing how this project will improve the business and enable growth might be willfully blind to “negative talk” about risks interfering with this great vision.

Or what about the salesman of the IT solution, somewhat willfully blind when overselling the benefits, how otherwise to close the deal?

The expert required in the project, with already a high workload, will probably not give objective effort estimates, as he knows he ends up doing it. This leads to the greatest denial of reality in ICT projects: the staffing of the project. The vendor does not tell the real effort required from the customer during the bidding process. It might scare them! In most cases, the customer does not even have available these already discounted resources but starts the project anyway.

So, I propose as a tool for the manager in charge of a challenging ICT project: the Ostrich Index.

The Ostrich Index measures from high to deep: head up high, scanning for enemies and new food sources, or head deep in the sand when the lion gets too close. A stakeholder with a high Ostrich Index is open minded and objective; the stakeholder at the deep end of the index is willfully blind to real project risks.

I have seen project owners with a very deep Ostrich Index. They were in denial because they were under great pressure, overloaded with projects delayed and top management demanding results. Nothing good comes from these situations and they are difficult to resolve.

As a project manager, make an assessment of your project stakeholders. If your most important stakeholders score a high Ostrich index, you are in good shape and have a good chance to succeed with your project. But should the index show a lot of heads deep in the sand, for whatever reasons, you better pull the plug on your project and stop it before it is too late.

It neither would harm if the project manager every now and then did an Ostrich index self assessment.

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