Project Management

Go slow (to go fast later)

From the Easy in theory, difficult in practice Blog
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My musings on project management, project portfolio management and change management. I'm a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organizational change that addresses process & technology, but primarily, people will maximize chances for success. This blog contains articles which I've previously written and published as well as new content.

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Categories: Agile, Project Management


The January 2020 issue of PM Network provide a case study for one of the 2019 PMI Project of the Year finalists, the Société de transport de Montréal's (STM) eight-year project to modernize the underground Montréal rail system. I have a soft spot in my heart for this system, having spent most of my formative years in Montréal and having been a frequent user of its services while commuting to university and my first job. I always found it to be a clean, safe, efficient and reliable method of getting around the city. As such, it was a bit of a surprise for me to read about the operating challenges faced by the STM in recent years and the anticipated growth projections, both of which were the impetus for this ambitious project.

While this would be considered a small mega-project (CA$2.1 billion), it is still a testament to the team that they delivered it under budget and on schedule utilizing only one percent of their overall contingency budget. The post-project outcomes are also in line with expected benefits.

What impressed me about the case study was the number of practices which were used by the team which we would normally associate with projects following an agile or adaptive life cycle. This includes close collaboration and short feedback loops with customers, building a "whole" team representing all disciplines, performing operator training in parallel with build activities to streamline transition, and encouraging learning from failures rather than hunting for scapegoats.

However, what really resonated with me was the team's commitment to shifting quality left.

During the preliminary qualification phase for the new trains, problems were identified during integrated testing which hadn't been identified in the manufacturer's unit testing of the individual components. Rather than blaming the contractors, STM owned the issue and worked closely with them to fully resolve the issues. While this caused a two year delay to the qualification phase, over the remaining life of the project it resulted in minimal change requests and contributed to acceptance of the trains upon final delivery with no costly late stage rework required.

Complex projects often experience design or other solution-related issues early in their life. While no one likes reporting negative schedule variance, especially at an early stage, if these issues do not get properly resolved, or worse, are ignored to protect schedule performance (and to save executive embarrassment), the cost and schedule impacts will often be much worse later on.

Courage is one of the values of the Scrum framework, but it applies to all delivery approaches. As project managers, we need to have the courage to convince our executives that it is better to slow down now so that we will be able to speed up later.

A stitch in time saves nine!

Posted on: February 16, 2020 07:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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Dear Kiron
Interesting your perspective on the topic: "Go slow (to go fast later)"

Thanks for sharing

I have not yet had the opportunity to read the PM Network article on Montréal's Société de transport (STM)

After what you wrote here I will read it carefully

Important topic to remember:
"As project managers, we need to have the courage to convince our executives that it is better to slow down now so that we will be able to speed up later.

A stitch in time saves nine! "

I wrote a blog post some time ago on this very topic. What is cool, is how often we think about this and how different people can have varying views of what it means to them!

There is no sense for speed when you may be heading in the wrong direction.

You certainly make a valid argument Kiron.

Sometimes it is wise to take a step back to gain 10 in the future.

Kiron,
The project delay announced early, was positive for the expectation of the public, a good communication practice. Now in place, those new trains are more comfortable and can accommodate more peoples.

Some people would say agile approaches allows you to go faster. What they really do is allow you to fail faster.

Thanks Rami! Absolutely Vincent - communication is key when such situations are encountered to ensure expectations are set appropriately. Agreed Stephane, although I prefer to call it "learning faster" :-)

Stephane, I have struggled with the "fail faster" idea because of the negative connotations. I prefer Kiron's "learning faster" idea better. Sure a project may turn out not to be viable and perhaps Agile will determine that earlier, but usually it's about identifying things that need additional attention earlier (and so have less negative impact on schedules, budgets, scope and quality).

Kiron, while reading your Blog, I was imaging your picture of the turtle having a rocket booster counting down 9, 8, 7... preparing to take off, moving from slow to fast. Slowing down the project and convincing stakeholders at the beginning of the project is a careful move to assure higher chance of success later.

Thanks Ashleigh! Thanks Jeremy - I SHOULD have attached a toy booster to that wooden turtle! Great image!

Worth experiencing this on the live projects, in fact a very exceptional phenomena to see this happening on the field. While we all certainly agree to slow down for a bit to see immense benefits at the later stage of the project/service execution - the real crux is to convince the leadership as they will recommend multiple options to drive the speed and provoke their ideas to not lose momentum. I am yet to confront this scenario, though…. Glad that at least I know some of the possible occurrences to slow down and ensure higher chances of success later on the projects for sure. Thank you, Kiron for sharing the experience.

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