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The Project Paradox: a hidden threat to project management programs everywhere

It's been lurking in the background forever.

It's not your fault.

There's a solution.

It's called the Project Paradox. It indicates that a project’s overall successful completion (on time and on budget) hinges on success in every single task. The chance of success decreases exponentially as your plan grows.

The Project Paradox

The Project Paradox statistical calculation is based on the “Expected Values” formula, a math construct that shows the snowball effect of a consequence or change over time.

If you have a typical project with 50 tasks, and a team that has a great on-time completion rate of 90%, there's only a 0.5% chance of completing it on time. The Project Paradox affects your entire portfolio. It doesn't discriminate between tasks or projects. It doesn't waver. And it explains why it's so difficult for team of A players to consistently complete projects on time.

The primary contributors that drive delays can be boiled down to a few elements:

Lack of Accountability.

Successful management of any project relies on accountability – everyone being clear on what they're supposed to do and then doing it. We rely on fragmented communications; emails, static spreadsheets, and conversation, which is why clear understanding of project status is not working.

Lack of Predictability.

Material shortages, scope creep, change orders, labor issues – any one of these can derail a project, particularly if there’s no warning. A lack of warning eliminates the ability to manage risk and make contingencies. Last-minute scrambles to save a project will drive teams to exhaustion.

Lack of connection or communication between key players on a project.

How often have two people walked away from the same conversation with two completely different interpretations? Or sent an email, thinking it was clear, only to find out later it was completely misunderstood or misread?

The Project Paradox manifests itself as a lack of clarity.

You have likely participated in large status update meetings, where a question or mandate is repeated each time (for example; how quickly you can move from sale to start for a service project – or how can we improve forecasting).

If you regularly ask these questions without a clear answer, you know what I mean.

Are we on time?

Are we properly staffed?

Is this project profitable (or how can we increase our margins on this)?

Are there hidden risks?

Do we have the right staff with the right skills to get the revenue in front of us with the best possible margins?

The good news is that there's something we can all do about it.

You'll never completely overcome the Project Paradox. This is why Moovila's project scoring engine (with automated risk monitoring) doesn't offer a perfect 100 score.

However, incremental positive changes have the reverse effect on the Project Paradox, yielding compiling benefits over time as root causes are systematically removed.

Avoid a massive, one-time fix.

Instead, make incremental process fixes to project flaws.

Small but permanent adjustments yield compounding gains over time. We like to use the analogy that, in Las Vegas, blackjack tables have a 0.5% edge over players. Over time, that edge pays back huge profits. Imagine what happens to your margins when project-based errors are reduced by 35%?

This also affects the way you manage risk. Instead of front-loading risk management with a confidence score, continually manage risk (more on this below).

Don't do everything yourself.

The most glaring feature of the Project Paradox is that human error and intervention is a huge blocker to project success. Embrace automation of things like project risk (the tech has finally caught up) and score your projects. A tool can never make decisions for you, but it will alert you to problems now and risk in the future. Use that to improve throughput and boost performance.

Be proactive.

Project management practices are reactive, for good reason. There are fires to put out. You and your teams need to react to changing schedules and plans. Being proactive doesn't mean you need to shift your entire structure. But you can plan more effectively, and account for change more effectively, as your projects change. Automated risk monitoring alerts you to change or conflicts before they happen. Do you want to know, right now, that in 63 days your project will face a major delay? Or do you want to wait 62 days while the issue lays dormant and then scramble with 7 hours of notice?

Be predictable.

Forecasts that use yesterday's data are irrelevant tomorrow, and in-flight projects change daily. Instead of waiting for updates, Moovila connects your resource and project data, updates it in real time, and reports it back out for your whole team. With a clearer view of capacity, you can create what-if resourcing scenarios, budget more accurately, and avoid risks like burnout and capacity conflicts.

Even the best teams have someone who “steps up” to get things done. But those heroics lead to unsustainable practices, frustration, burn-out—and have to be repeated. As intimidating as the Project Paradox appears, establishing a way to automate, make incremental changes, and clearly define resourcing will drive huge changes to your PMO without having to change the way you work.



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