Apples are tasty but oranges are win-win

Apple projects like the one from the first example are really the easiest of all projects to manage.  These projects usually have been done before by the company, they follow a known life-cycle, they use existing processes, and are firmly rooted in the core-competencies of the company.  Apple projects are great for junior project managers to learn how to listen to stakeholders, clients, and subject matter experts.  Apple projects  offer the shallow end of the pool for learning without much risk of getting in trouble.

For more seasoned project managers apple projects are great test beds to try out new processes for handling workflow or large volume ideas without putting the actual project at risk. If the new idea causes problems or doesn’t work as planned the apple projects don’t take much effort to get out of the ditch and back on track. These project help the new process grow by providing valuable empirical data with little risk to the project effort or company as a whole.  Oranges on the other hand are a whole different ballgame.

How Does an Apple Become an Orange

An orange project is something that is a more complex project dealing with things that have not been done before but still relates to the wheelhouse of the company’s core competencies.  By that I mean orange projects change, alter, or enhance something about the core competency of a company rather than deliver that same competency.  These projects generally have an infrastructure component either in part or in whole where apple projects tend to be delivering the service of the company.

Orange projects tend to require more experience navigating the unknown, the how do we do that’s, and getting executive approval or buy in if it is to succeed.  While simple listening and note taking are at the core of an apple project, conflict resolution is at the heart of the orange project. Skillfully navigating the intricate sociopolitical mine filed of a company to reach a desired outcome takes experience and skill.  A project manager who wishes to be successful managing orange projects must first perfect their listening and note taking skills in the apple projects or they are doomed to failure should an apple ever turn into an orange.  Lets talk a bit about how an apple turns into an orange (conflict arises), why unresolved conflict can rot (cause to fail) an apple or an orange, and how to turn conflict into something that ripens (improves) an apple or an orange.

Scope creep and or gold plating are many times at fault when an apple project “suddenly” turns into an orange.  The adverb “suddenly” is really a misnomer though because projects rarely change type overnight.  When either of these two causes are not the culprit the apple project usually transforms either at the beginning early on, or at the end upon project delivery.

A project that transforms due to scope creep or gold plating is actually going through a natural transformation.  Any time the definition of the work is altered, either from within (gold plating) or from without (scope creep) the project can transform type.  A skilled overall project manager should always be wary when changes in project scope are discussed for this very occurrence and determine if a more seasoned project manager is needed.  Often times this is a good opportunity to mentor junior project managers allowing them to hone their conflict resolution skills as an apple that changes into an orange in this manner is better off in the hands of the project manager who started work with the apple rather than assigning a new person who has to be brought up to speed.

An apple project that shifts from an apple to an orange in the discovery phase early on was never an apple at all.  For these projects some vital piece of information has usually been left out or overlooked by the initiating party.  A good investigative project manager who is asking probing questions during the discovery phase can easily ferret out oranges in the guise of apples.  The discovery phase is the best time to find out that your apple is really an orange, and like the scope change transformation this is usually a good learning opportunity for the junior project managers.

The project that shifts later in the project effort, either in the middle or at the end, is the most challenging of all apples to oranges transformations.  This type of change usually occurs because one or more assumptions proves to be wrong or flawed in some way or new information is uncovered.  This transformation can also occur if information was omitted during discovery, misinterpreted, or flat out withheld.  The challenge before the project manager in this case is assessing the impact of the new information to determine how great or small the impact to the project is.

In nearly all cases how the change is communicated to project stakeholders plays a large part in whether or not the apple changes into an orange.  If the changes are communicated properly with honest and clear presentation, then expectations from the stakeholders will be properly set keeping the apple an apple.  It is usually when the manner, method, or message that is used to communicate is somehow flawed, that an apple shifts into an orange.  Just because the project details, scope, or methods change does not mean the project must transform.  A project only transforms from an apple to an orange when conflict arises.  We all instinctively know this is not good for the project, but why is it bad?

The next installment will discuss Why Unresolved Conflict is Bad for a Project.