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The Silverback Project Scenario

Silverback Projects - How to avoid disaster

Have you seen the movie King Kong or Mighty Joe Young? Huge and powerful gorillas who were very well behaved when with their blonde female friend and wrecking havoc in the company of others. Silverback projects are similarly huge and powerful.

A Silverback project is characterised by a combination of or ALL of: being complex in terms of scope, having a very high-profile and a high budget, and having several small projects and project groups dependent on one another.
How to Spot One
ALL large, complicated projects are Silverbacks by default! Start with this mindset and you will be primed to pick up the pieces and troubleshoot as soon as you join the project.

Silverback projects are characterised by:
  • Huge budget,
  • Missed deadlines and widespread concern,
  • A clear mission but an unclear scope,
  • Fear of not releasing a product or achieving a result that will provide a seat on a particular bandwagon,
  • A thriving blame and whisper culture,
  • Very long list of stakeholders and stakeholders that includes complex groups with differing and in some cases opposing motivations and desired outcomes for the project,
  • Lack of a decision-making and approvals,
  • Multiple work streams,
  • Multiple project teams,
  • Multiple stakeholder groups,
  • Programmes within programmes
What Happens With Silverback Gorillas?
Silverback gorillas are projects that seem harmless but then end up causing a lot of problems because is usually more complex than anticipated, the budget is insufficient, the necessary people needed to complete the project will not be available as it had not been planned that they were required and so on.

It’s because the scope and resultant impact and issues with the seemingly easy project are not anticipated that they can cause such a mess.
Your Silverback Gorilla Action Plan
1) Establish who ALL the project champions are and make contact. Let them know your role and that you are there to help

2) Communicate to the project stakeholders that you have identified them all and that you have identified the project champions

3) Find out EXACTLY what has been discussed, agreed and set a date with management. The person who brings you in may have some or all the answers. If not, find out via this person all the connected people and parties and get all the details you can

4) Call a halt to any work beginning or about to begin that is not of a defined scope or delivery plan. If you are working against a budget, why burn money when it hasn't been conclusively decided what the end product or result is going to be?

5) Do your own analysis of the project requirements and list all issues and unknowns. Where possible, try and create a top-level delivery plan as well as a realistic guide to compare to any dates already promised or communicated

6) Call a meeting of ALL key stakeholders (at the very least, the big decision makers/backers of the project) and map out all of your concerns. Highlight the knowledge gaps that need to be plugged so that a more accurate delivery schedule can be provided and mapped to resource plans. Highlight the likely costs against any pre-agreed budgets, and also give guidance as to best practices and how the project should be run for least pain.

In short, GET EVERYTHING OUT IN THE OPEN so that the project team are all on the same page and honest decisions can be made.

We have tailored the Gorilla Theory checklists for each of the three problem scenarios. You can buy the project checklist pack or the full checklist pack: click here >

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