Fisher Maritime's Fairleads

'Lessons Learned' Strategies & Ideas for the Marine Industry

The ‘Attractiveness’ of Project Mismanagement

Erroneously disguised as a problem-solving opportunity

Project mismanagement is not the same as poor project management. Poor project management means that the project will eventually be achieved but at greater cost and longer schedule than otherwise accomplish-able. Project mismanagement takes the project in the wrong direction, introducing seriously flawed decision-making which later necessitates either a reversal of direction or far greater cost and schedule corrections. It masks itself as a decision to help resolve a project’s problem. But in reality it is not a decision; it is only an expression of hope, such as, “This should work out satisfactorily, I think.”

Re-Assigning the Problem Does NOT Simply Make it Go Away

Project mismanagement usually starts when an entity involved for certain purposes in a project offers a very attractive solution to a problem that has arisen in an area beyond its original purview. It appears that the problem will be resolved if the project managers simply re-assign responsibility for resolving the problem to a different entity than originally had that responsibility. This usually is a very attractive proposition––it is thought that the problem simply will go away if the project managers assign responsibility to the entity that is volunteering to resolve the problem, albeit at some additional cost. When project management is already stressed-out by multiple problems, the opportunity to see one of those problems be easily resolved is welcome relief. It is offered as a clean, efficient, effortless means of resolving the problem that has arisen in the project. But often it doesn’t work out that well.

Here’s an example. A dredge owner wanted to purchase a new, large split-hull hopper dredge to have it available within 24 months, in time to commence a long-term project. But the bidding shipyards all stated that the desired delivery date could not be achieved because the extremely large hydraulic cylinders to open and close the hull were long-lead items, controlling the vessel’s delivery to over 28 months. This later-than-acceptable delivery date was the project’s main problem.

At that point, the owner-retained naval architectural consultancy offered to procure those components faster than the shipyard, provided the owner would designate the consultancy as an equipment provider and tell the shipyard that the equipment would become owner-furnished. This appealed to the owner; at the stroke of a pen (it seemed) the schedule problem would be resolved. The consultancy would obtain the equipment (for an additional fee) and arrange to have it timely delivered to the shipyard so the 24-month vessel delivery requirement could be achieved.

Of course the end of the story is predictable. The consultancy had no special powers that could eliminate the long lead time. The ship was completed late. Moreover, the owner had to pay extra to the shipyard due to the multiple critical-path impacts of the late-delivered owner furnished equipment.

The assignment of equipment procurement to the consultancy essentially was an expression of hope, but not of promise. It was hoped that action would result in avoidance of the long-lead time problem. The appealing result offered by the consultancy vastly overshadowed the need to analyze why the switch from shipyard-provided equipment to owner-furnished equipment would have such a dramatically different result. In making that assignment, the owner hoped––but did not analyze. This is but one of many examples of project mismanagement that Fisher Maritime has observed over the 43 years of its existence.

The lesson learned from this example, among many others, is this: When an entity offers a solution to a vexing problem, but before project management makes a decision about that potential problem, analyze whether the pending decision will definitely resolve the problem, or if it is only an expression of hope that by trying something different the problem will be resolved.