A program is a group of related projects and activities that are managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually (PMDPro). In other words, the whole (the benefit of the program) is greater than the sum of its parts (the projects, activities, and tasks).

However, even well designed programs might include projects that do not properly contribute to the program goals… in fact, some of these misplaced projects might and often do haunt the program, its projects and, especially… the program manager!

The Zombie Project
Always make sure you proper close projects within your program

This project simply does not die. You keep ending the project and executing proper closing activities but… somehow… you find out a few weeks later that the project is still running. The project keeps reappearing in different places and slowly walks through all other projects – bringing the program and organization attention to itself.

You fire the project manager (or reassign)… but, “someone” simply keeps him/her alive. “Someone” is managing your program’s projects and you must find who he/she is…

However, if you don´t close down a project properly, it can/might/will also evolve into a zombie.

Careful – it is contagious! If the zombie reaches a healthy project it might eat its brain (project manager) and turns it into another zombie… they will partner to turn the whole program into a non-profit Walking Dead season!

The Mummy Project
Avoid the governance to bring back closed projects

Unlike the Zombie, the Mummy Project disappears when you close it. Centuries later, it emerges from the dead. Maybe you closed down a project and you thought it was all over … but a Senior Manager (probably new) finds out about it and thinks it would be “cool” to bring it back. The resurrection ceremony might take place during a governance meeting…

Well, even though it is less harmful than the zombie (as it does not eat healthy projects’ brains), it will scare and disturb other projects… and it stinks!

The Vampire Project
Make sure projects’ resources are controlled and assigned

Well… this one is dangerous. Hard to kill, it sucks resources from all other projects. Sometimes the Vampire kills the other project or turns it into a zombie… a controlled zombie that will only exist to provide resources for the Vampire.

Some Vampire Projects, when discovered, turn into bats and fly to another program. Keep an eye on that bat: it might fly back to your program in the near future.

Beware when a strange bat appears in your program – especially if it is the pet bat of a Senior Manager. Unlike, ‘real’ vampires, these projects can appear in your program without your having invited them in. Pet bats are dangerous and only really good governance – the Van Helsing of Program Boards – can stop them.

Vampire projects (pet or real ones) are also vulnerable to the sunlight of clear, performance data – so make sure you prepare your Board well …. or suffer the consequences…..

The Frankenstein Project
New projects require new resources and proper design

A mess. This kind of project appears when a bad design (redesign) occurs in the program: parts of dead (undead) projects are put together to accomplish missing outputs and outcomes. The result is a clumsy, brainless and scary project that will destroy anything on its way.

The Frankenstein project can also result from a program owner/board desire – that keeps adding ideas and new projects into the program. Senior Manager visits can provoke this – especially if they have just visited a different country program. Since there are no extra resources, parts of healthy projects are taken to build the Frankenstein. You will have mutilated projects running in circles while the Frankenstein destroys what is left of your program.

The Werewolf Project
Assure transparency on data and reports – do not be afraid of pointing out issues and weakness

This project might look like a “nice guy”… a well-designed and integrated project that contributes for the program goals. During an entire phase, its reports and indicators are great… but… on the night of full moon (auditing night), you will find out that it is a completely different beast.

You will probably discover a trail of blood behind the Werewolf Project. It might have destroyed several other projects, if not the entire program.

Effective, transparent and holistic monitoring is the only cure. Make sure that projects are actually visited and that you know what is really going on. Talk to your support services and get their input… or else….

The Ghost Project
Stop past issues and experiences from contaminating the program management environment – make sure learning improves new projects instead of creating terror.

It is said that this project once existed… you’ve heard about its activities… nobody has ever seen its outputs… however, some program resources are disappearing. Sometimes you can hear chains, whistleing, doors closing… but you just can´t see the project or its results.

Some project managers swear that they hear a voice or whisper during their planning activities… that hypnotizes them and lead them to mistakes or unexplained cost overuns.

If project meetings causes goosebumps, it might a good time for an exorcism on your program…

The Poltergeist
Run. Just run.

Are things moving around the walls or through the air? Projects out of control? Scope crept beyond recognition? Then maybe several of the supernatural projects described in this article are taking over your program… just run, and pray that none of them follows you to future programs. They might… they will !

Remember – even well designed and well-managed programs might contain ‘undead’ projects. Always carry a crucifix, silver bullets, garlic and a wooden stake or at least the most appropriate Program and Project Management tools.

And… even if everything seems to be ok… look under the bed (program details) every night (stages) before sleeping (governance meeting).


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