TROUBLED PROJECTS – Preconceived Notions

As we begin to dig deeper into the troubled project and work breakdown structure has been established, we begin to interview the stakeholders of the project.  One of the general questions one asks, is what do you believe are the issues, what went wrong?  Human nature as it is, these stakeholders tend to be cautions and careful with their contributions.  Rarely do I hear one volunteer or is his or her organization the source for the incongruities.  A cautious approach continues as the interview process progresses further.

So, you ask what we do with this natural reaction?  The reality is that the project was or is in trouble.  Basic issues are acknowledged.   As a research analyst for McLaughlin and McLaughlin, I become a bookworm.  I read all Monthly Progress Reports, Meeting Minutes and any other exchange where both parties (typically owner and contractor) are acknowledged.  Well written Monthly Progress Reports and Meeting Minutes many times expose the issues and concerns usually providing the key dates when addressed.  Additionally the leading and supporting roles to the project are noted on the report.

The most telling information reveals itself from the e-mails. Searching through powerful search tools using the designated individuals and subject matter one delves even deeper into the issue.  People tend to let their guard down and say things that might be left unsaid in other forms of communications.  Unfortunately   some countries the e-mail system allows for personal e-mails as well, so it is difficult to view the files without permission.  This allows one to hide certain issues from those investigating or providing only emails one only desires to share.  Companies in these countries would be best suited if there are two systems – one personal, one project.

As I read and compile the e-mails with the involved individuals of the issues, I begin formulating a time line aka Chronology  using the related material which would include e-mails, Monthly Progress Reports, Meeting Minutes.  Depending on the situation, Purchase Orders, Shipping Receipts, Signed drawings may be a fruitful addition to establish the actual story.  Dated photographs too are plus.  This interwoven with the contract enables one to accurately grasp the “big picture”.

At least half of the preconceived notions on projects M&M researched of” what went wrong” were not totally correct or are completely wrong.  The issues were what they were but the underlying reasons were often not identified properly.

In one situation, the engineering department was blamed (in my opinion unmercifully) for being the fault of the project being late.  The “Blame Game” stated that they were late in the issue of the P&IDs.  Yes, they were late but it was a result of owner continuing to interfere with the expert engineer reports.  Calculations, drawings were questioned with request for the answers to many (fifteen) loaded questions.  The fifteen loaded questions took considerable time to answer precluding the engineers from their completing their work.  This occurred more than once….so the time line aka chronology laid out the issue at hand – owner interference.

This is one mere example of a myriad of preconceived notions reviewed.  Time lines and Chronologies with contemporaneous documents deliver the opportunity to minimize a very expensive discord.  Through the timelines aka chronologies, the issues can be easily detected and analyzed.

Investigate the contemporaneous documents.  Humans have selected memories and are unable to deliver an objective accurate picture of “what happened”.  Thus when examining an issue one is best served by creating a time line aka chronology using only contemporaneous documents which include the Contract, Monthly Progress Reports, Meeting Minutes, e-mails, Purchase Orders, signed drawings, dated photographs, etc.

It is important to note that McLaughlin and McLaughlin [M&M] is not a law firm and is not intending to provide legal advice.  M&M is a consulting firm providing (among other services) non-legal expertise in dispute resolution and litigation support.  The Resource Center is for the convenience of blog visitors and M&M does not offer this for commercial purposes.  For further information on M&M services, please see