Insight Blog

Spring Cleaning Your Project Portfolio

by David Wise

March 20, 2017 | Project Management

Two Tips to Banish Evergreen and Watermelon Projects

With Spring comes spring cleaning and I’m sure that we can all think of a few projects that could use our attention… No, I’m not talking about cleaning out the filing cabinet or organizing the garage—I’m referring to those projects in the portfolio that seem to linger on and on in an active state without delivering anything useful. The surprising thing is that these same projects rarely seem to get much attention from leadership. How do they get away with this and what can we do to drive accountability into delivery commitments?

At Lake Shore Associates (LSA), we’ve observed two project management phenomena, “Evergreens” and “Watermelons,” that contribute to the never-ending projects that I describe above.

“Evergreens” are projects that adjust their delivery schedule almost immediately upon encountering nearly any obstacle. By perpetually re-baselining in this way, they simply lengthen their timelines to absorb impediments and never report Yellow or Red status despite deviating wildly from their original commitment dates. Since leadership rarely focuses much attention on projects in Green status, these projects can fly under the radar for surprising amounts of time before being detected (usually due to budget concerns).

“Watermelons” are projects that avoid reporting issues for as long as possible while continuing to report Green status. We call these “watermelons” because even though they look green on the outside, they are all Red red once you look under the surface. Only when these projects cannot suspend disbelief any longer and it becomes apparent that they will miss their commitments, they will report Red red status. However, by this time, there is little that can be done to correct course and the projects are forced to re-baseline the timeline and will quickly revert back to their former green status against a lengthened schedule.

With both Evergreens and Watermelons, the Project Manager may not recognize that this behavior is harmful and might believe that they are doing the right thing by “proactively adjusting schedules” (for Evergreens) or “trusting their team’s promises to turn things around without leadership involvement” (for Watermelons). So, that said, it may not be easy to address these situations as individual performance issues.  Instead, we recommend two basic changes in project status reporting to rid the portfolio of them:

Make original commitment dates visible to steering teams and in leadership reporting. This is as simple as carving out a small corner of the status report to show the original commitment dates vs the current dates. Making a simple bullet list of the change history easily accessible is also a very useful tool. Once made transparent, the increased awareness of repeated changes can bring focus to (and ultimately rectify) a multitude of ailments including poor stakeholder engagement, inadequate resource planning, and constantly shifting requirements.

Create a culture that rewards timely reporting of issues. At many companies, it is perceived that having projects in Yellow and Red status reflects poor project management or an unhealthy project portfolio. I argue the exact opposite is true. Reporting Yellow and Red status shouldn’t be perceived negatively—nor should the management team overreact upon seeing these statuses. Instead, the non-Green statuses should be used to bring visibility and resources to project issues as quickly as possible to avoid disruption to commitments. PMs that report an accurate status should be recognized for their efforts to keep their projects on track. Similarly, a PM should receive coaching if they fail to report an issue in a timely manner. Tip: A policy defining what project health metrics qualify projects as Yellow or Red is quite helpful to drive more accurate reporting and overcome personal biases.

Neither of the changes above is particularly difficult, but both require modifications to both processes and culture to drive lasting shifts in behaviors. Before PMs can be expected to follow these guidelines, the leadership culture must evolve to recognize and reward accurate reporting.  Once this happens, leaders should uproot Evergreens and do their best Gallagher impersonation on those Watermelons.

 

For more information on how Lake Shore Associates can help you with your project management needs, visit www.lakeshore.is. We will be most grateful to work with you.

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