Project Management, Denial, and the Death Zone: Lessons from Everest and Antarctica

/Project Management, Denial, and the Death Zone: Lessons from Everest and Antarctica

By Grant Avery

Project success rates havent changed in 20 years Learn why, and what you can do to improve them in your organization Today, less than a third of projects deliver their specified business benefits on time and within budget. Nearly 20% of all projects fail outright, and under-delivery of benefits on the average project is as high as 50%. Acutely aware of this and without understanding the root causes of the problem, organizations are busy advancing capabilities and investing in methodologies and processes that increase complexity, but just deliver more failure. Using examples and lessons learned from high-risk environments where the price of project failure is death, this innovative and captivating guide provides powerful insights into the root causes of project failure and how to manage them. The author examines the failures and achievements of the Antarctic explorers Scott and Shackleton, Mount Everest expedition leader John Hunt, and modern-day Everest climbers, and expertly connects these to the high-risk world of modern day project and program management. Written from a base of in-depth project management knowledge and experience, this essential reference for business leaders, portfolio owners, project and program managers, business analysts, and risk managers, explores the drivers of risk in projects, the relationship between our ambitions and our abilities, and provides pragmatic real-world solutions to this constancy of project failure that readers can apply directly to their organization.

Available through Amazon here.

Review by Dr Phil Crosby, FICCPM

Any book that manages to combine the words “Project Management” with “Death Zone” is bound to attract attention from our community, and rightly so with this intriguing and informative new text from New Zealand author Grant Avery MBA, PMP. Within its 250 pages, helpfully illustrated with many graphics and photographs, Avery sets out his views, lessons learned, and personal approach to lifting success in complex business projects. Two factors differentiate this book from typical project management references. First, the book is exceptionally well organised and structured, presenting a logical development of the author’s compelling ideas concerning risk appetite, advanced basics, and leadership. Second, Avery delves deeply into arduous expedition scenarios (many from personal experience) and draws useful analogies with thorny complex project situations. It is clear from reading the book, and my subsequent conversation with him, that Avery is well qualified to speak on the topic, noting his substantial experience in the field of project assessment combined with both academic and professional credentials.

His exposure to problem solving and decision making in the wildest of places allows mostly valid contrasts with complex high-tech project environments. Many gripping case studies and anecdotes drive home the key points making this book far more pleasant reading than a standard test book. Early in the text, Avery establishes his underpinning idea that each of us has a point where our risk exposure is comfortable. When that risk level is reduced (through gained experience or changed circumstances), we tend to then engage in actions that restore the higher risk exposure, rather than continue in a lower risk environment. This is known as risk homeostasis and manifests as “outcome-maximising”. The book explains this concept of risk appetite setting and risk management in the form of the CORA triangle (capability, outcomes, and risk appetite).

This segues into chapters on denial, the dangers of abnormal narcissism, and how overstretching can spell the death of projects. Avery then addresses the importance of organisational maturity, and describes the criticality of Level 3 status in achieving a sustainable project foundation. The book then takes readers into the world of the “heroic manager”, where comparisons with the famous Antarctic explorers and Alpine climbers are readily made with standout project leaders. A chapter titled Advanced Basics follows as something of a ‘catch-all’ where the author covers much ground in the practice of ICT-enabled business project management. Avery continues his thesis in final chapters on project management ethos, and promotion of the ‘humble servant’ style of leadership, before a well crafted epilogue summarising the major concepts.

Useful key learnings are also provided at the end of each chapter, and several checklist tools mentioned in the book are downloadable in Word format from the publisher’s website – an indication of the author’s genuine altruistic approach. The tightness and defined scope of this book results in several strongly related topics not being explored (e.g. mission assurance, contingency management, and Black Swan events), and perhaps a future edition will include alternate project review terminology such as CDR, MCR, ORR, PDR etc. as these will be more familiar to the high-tech/aerospace/defence project office community. But these are small criticisms of a well presented and valuable contribution of several new ideas to the genre.

Available through Amazon here.