Microsoft has just published a new white paper - Cancelling a project (without cancelling your career). Is it self help or does it intend to send us a message. Surely it cannot be serious?
Actually it is quite a good white paper, well written and with lots of quotables and good advice. But as you read it you cannot help think about how it relates to Microsoft's apparent attitude towards project cancellation.
Interest is also at a maximum because of the current turmoil in the state of Microsoft technologies. To say that the only way to guess at where various technologies are going is to try to read the entrails is an understatement. Microsoft chooses its words to express the future prospects of a technology so carefully that it can lead to a fist fight over the meaning of the same pronouncement. Is Silverlight dead? What about WPF? Will C# reach version 6? And so on..
The paper is by Chris Vandersluis, who is the president and founder of Canada–based, Microsoft Certified Partner, HMS Software, and it takes the point of view of a project manager.
"As project managers, we’re hard-wired not to quit."
I hope Microsoft's project managers are reading this and that they continue, to reach this:
"The Dakota Indians have a saying, “If the horse dies, dismount.” Project managers would prefer to do anything but. Rather than getting off a dead horse… er, project, project managers are more likely to change riders (project managers), put two dead horses (projects) together to see if they pull the cart faster as a team. We’d prefer to rename the horse, send the rider for more training, add funding to the horse or just wait quietly on top of it hoping that no one notices that it’s not breathing and avoiding a declaration of what everyone already knows. The horse isn’t going any further forward."
Ah - hi-yo Silver(light).
There then follows some interesting analysis of when to spot a project that really needs to be taken out and shot - Windows 8 anyone?
But how to end a project that is so loved?
"END IT RIGHT
If you do have to cancel a project, make sure you do so consciously. Just ending a project in an emotional tirade can cause more damage than keeping it going."
Then follows some good advice that Microsoft will probably never have to take because they so rarely actually end a project or a product - they simply allow it to slide way into the shadows and the code that time forgot.
Then the white paper goes on to consider the benefits of the cancellation and there are many but the main ones are that the team are free to start another project - Windows 9 say or Silverlight 6.
But what about the career prospects of any one involved in the cancellation - surely this is a failure to be added to the work record?
“Canceling a project unlikely to deliver expected benefits should not be seen as a failure — failing to cancel such a project should be.”
Yeh right... this is utopia. My guess is that in Microsoft in particular a manager who has to cancel a project is next to leave.
I can highly recommend downloading and reading this white paper - it's all good advice and very readable. I would particularly recommend it to all Microsoft managers because if they learned to be up front about cancelled projects then we might not have to play guess who's not coming to Build 2013.
Read the paper and try to make your company conform to its world view. And contemplate how much better Microsoft would be if it too took the advice to heart.