Meine Buchnotizen – How Big Things Get Done

Meine Buchnotizen – How Big Things Get Done

Warum scheitern so viele Projekte? Bent Flyvbjerg und Dan Gardner sprechen über berühmte Projekte wie den Bau der Sydney Opera oder Jimi Hendrix Studio. Sie zeigen auch Gegenbeispiele, die gelingen – wie Empire State Building und Pixar Movies.

Gelesen im Juni 2024. Auf der Amazon Seite finden Sie mehr Details und Rezensionen. Wenn Sie es nicht so mit dem Lesen haben, empfehle ich Ihnen Audible auszuprobieren. Audible ist im ersten Monat kostenlos und Sie können dort fast alle Bücher auch als Hörbuch hören. Ich will Audible nicht mehr missen.

Bent Flyvbjerg - How big things get done

Heuristics for better project leadership

Fast rules of thumb used to simplify complex decisions.

Projects dont go wrong, they start wrong – Decisions at the outset of projects often are rushed and substandard. Often, there is an early decision by top management on a budget and schedule before either can be verified. This then causes problem with cost and schedule overruns, lack of resources and reputational damage. Learn to push back. Thinking is cheap, while action is expensive.

Don’t start without contingencies – cost and time overruns trigger a vicious circle. Overruns distract project leaders by negative publicity and risk of running out of funds. In turn, that steals time and attention from delivering the project, which results in further overruns. The solution is adequate contingencies at the outset. Contingencies must be defended. Leaving them out is an easy, but false, way to make a project look cheaper up front. It will prove more expensive in the end. „Never cross a river if it is on average four feet (1,2 m) deep“. Understand variance. (See expected value for cost risk table below.)

Hire a masterbuilder – you need someone with deep domain experience and a proven track record of success in respective area.

Get your team right – „Give a good idea to a mediocre team and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right, chances are they will get the ideas right.“ (Ed Catmull). Projects are delivered by teams. Ideally, the masterbuilder picks the team.

Ask „why?“ – asking why you are doing your project will focus on what matters, the ultimate purpose and result. This goes in the box on the right of your project chart. Good leaders never lose sight of the ultimate result. Check yourself constantly by asking – „Do my present actions effectively contribute to the result on the right?“

Build with LEGO – big is best built from small. Modular approach. Modules scale, getting better, faster, bigger and cheaper. Seek out positive learning curves. Grow big by replicating small.

Think slow, act fast – What’s the worst that can happen during planning? What’s the worst that can happen during delivery? Almost any nightmare you can imagine has happened during delivery. Limit your exposure to this risk. Take all the time necessary to create a detailed, tested plan. Planning is cheap and safe, delivery is expensive and dangerous. Good planning ensures quick and effective delivery. Build on paper first. Take time to think things through and get the project right before you act. But once you act, go fast.

Take the outside (one of those) view – your project is special, but it is not unique. It is part of a larger class of projects. Think about your project as „one of those“, gather data about similar projects, learn from them. Analyse the common risks and how you will mitigate them.

Watch your downside – Risk can kill you and your project. No upside can compensate for that. Successful project leaders think like Tour de France riders. Participating is not about winning but about not losing. Each day for twenty-one days. Only after that you can consider winning. Focus on not losing, every day, while keeping a keen eye on the goal you are trying to achieve.

Say no and walk awaystaying focused is essential for getting project done. Saying no is essential for staying focused. Will the project have the people and fund (including contingencies) needed to succeed? If not, walk away. Does an action contribute to achieving the goal? If not, skip it. Saying no is essential for the success of a project and an organization. „I am actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done.“ (Steve Jobs).

Make friends and keep them friendly – a leader of a multibillion-dollar public sector IT project spent more than half his time acting like a diplomat, cultivating the understanding and support of stakeholders who could significantly influence his project. When something goes wrong, the project’s fate depends on the strenght of those relationships. Start developing and cultivating relationships before you need them.

Ensure skin in the game – make sure everyone invloved has skin in the game. They gain if the project succeeds and lose if it fails. Don’t be surprised if people do not deliver what you want if they don’t have an incentive to do so.

Know that your biggest risk is you – it is tempting to think that projects fail because the world throws surprises at us. But the project fail because the project manager did not study how failure typically occurs in respective class of projects. Scope changes, price changes, complexity, unexpected conditions, demand shortfalls, etc are surface manifestations of an underlying root cause, namely underestimation by planners, caused by delusion. The causal chain starts with the biases and the underestimate. Scope changes etc. are unavoidable consequences once the underestimate has been made.

Value truth over good news – encourage bad news. In big, complex projects it is only a matter of time until something goes wrong. As leader, you want to hear about this as fast as possible, so you can act before it gets worse.

Further readings – Heuristics for Masterbuilders: Fast and Frugal Ways to Become a Better Project Leader, University of Oxford – Said Business School.

Base rates (expected value) for cost risk

If you are planning to host the Olympic games, your expected value (base rate) for cost overrun will be 157%, with 57% risk of ending up in the tail with an expected overrun of 200% and

Modular approach goes hand in hand with low cost overrun percentage.

Project typeMean cost overrun %% of projects in tail
(>50% overrun)
Mean overrun of
projects in tail (%)
Nuclear storage23848427
Olympic games15776200
Nuclear power12055204
Hydroelectric dams7537186
Wind power13797
Energy transmission84166
Solar power1250
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