When Projects get Stalled..

I have witnessed a recurring theme in projects that causes me to recall a scene from the 1970 movie Patton, with George C Scott.

As this scene is depicted in the movie, Patton becomes enraged upon discovering that a column of American troops, tanks, and vehicles has been held up and exposed to enemy fire because two mules hitched to an Italian peddler’s cart are blocking a narrow bridge. The bellicose general angrily turns on the soldiers who have been trying, ineffectively, to pull the stubborn animals off the bridge, shouting at them: “Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses?  What the hell’s the matter with you?” [1]

So how can this possibly remind me of any project problem?  Simple, in the event above, the troops and material are subjected to risk and injury while the obstacle, the mules, remain to be convinced to leave the bridge.



In project management the same event occurs, though the stakes are not so high.  In your experience, how many times has a project decision or resolution of a conflict languished, consuming precious project time?  If your answer is this seldom happens our experiences are very dissimilar.  While the marketing people delay providing direction on the scope or objectives of the project, the clock is ticking.  If your schedule or methods of working do not account for this, your project schedule can be severely impacted.  This is especially true for fixed date delivery projects such as meeting a legal requirement.  Some examples are:

  • Marketing / product planning input late or insufficient
  • Design or system alternatives not resolved quickly
  • Specifications late or missing
  • Design work extends well past expected delivery date
  • Many more

These conflicts and indecision often come to roost for the test and verification work as short cuts, reduction of scope of what should be tested, or teams working long, uncompensated hours and sometimes over the holidays (for example vehicle emissions compliance often if not always starts in January).

Understand how the parts are connected. It is possible to work with less than perfect information to allow for some progress, however you need to know the consequences of such a course of action.  If the fundamentals are missing escalate until these are resolved. The last thing you can afford, is to have your project held up, making no progress while the clock is ticking.

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