I’ve always been a classic rock n’ roll kind of guy. But about two or three years ago my wife started forcing country music on me. Like anything else except some of today’s “pop” music – when listened to incessantly it ends up becoming familiar and likable. In fact, the last three live concerts I’ve attended have been three of the biggest stars in country music history (George Strait, Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood) so I guess I’ve become something of a “fan” of the genre. Now there is a song by Jamey Johnson called “You Should’ve Seen it in Color.” It’s basically about a grandson looking at black & white pictures with his grandfather and he’s hearing the story behind each photo from the Depression and the war, etc. with his grandfather saying, “If it looks like we were scared to death… you should’ve seen it in color.”
Fast forward to today and the world of project management. Is it calming? Does the daily black and white grind make it look monotonous when we all know it really isn’t. Does it all goes as planned? If everyone could “see it in color” would they see a much more challenging PM picture underneath? Does every project go off without a hitch? Or if everyone could “see it in color” would they see a much more challenging PM picture underneath? It’s not rocket science, I realize that. And for the most part overloaded project managers aren’t going to get so stressed out that they jump out of the 72nd story of an office building…at least I’ve never heard of one doing that. But it can be a fearful world to be in. Why? For many reasons…
- Factors outside of our control can greatly affect the outcomes of our projects
- Schedules we must adhere to are often dictated by someone outside of the project
- Budgets and funding are always an issue and can go away without warning
- Cybersecurity issues on data sensitive projects can cause major project failures and customer confidence issues
- Technology glitches or shortcomings from our IT departments can get in the way of successful testing and deployment on tech projects
- And the list goes on and on…
What can we do to help ensure greater success or less fear on our projects?
Plan well and plan some more.
I’m not always the best planner and I like to get started with the “real” project work as much as the next project manager. Plus, showing fast progress out of the gate can be a real customer pleaser. But I understand – and have experienced first hand – that a lack of enough planning can be disastrous. So, we need to make sure we have thoroughly reviewed and documented requirements, we understand the client’s business processes and how to best meet their needs, and then fully understand what needs to happen next. All this takes initial planning… and that takes time. But it also breeds project success.
Thoroughly assess and address risks.
Part of planning is understanding the risks we may be facing, how we can possibly avoid them, and what mitigation strategies we would need to employ if the risks are realized. So, yes, risk planning is critical and should be part of every project. If you bury your head in the sand in terms of risk planning and assessment, you will often be very sorry later in the form of expensive issue fixing and rework.
Stay on top of the financials.
You can’t just plan the budget and then never revisit it. That’s the project manager who ends the project 80% over budget and wonders how that can happen. If you plan and review financials weekly you will likely never be more than 10% over budget without knowing it – with plenty of time and room to get the financials back on track. So, plan and review project financials weekly – that’s the secret to project financial success.
Plan resources and review the resource plan often.
The same holds for resource planning as it does for financial planning mentioned above. Our people resources are often being pulled from multiple directions due to the various projects they are working on at any given time. Sometimes a project more important than ours can get in the way leaving us without, say, a tech lead at a critical point in the project. Communication is key to knowing these potential conflicts in advance so that we can plan and take appropriate action. I’ve been there and it’s scary. I once lost a resource for a month with only one day’s notice. That’s a painful piece of news to share with an otherwise satisfied project client. I won’t let that happen to me again.
Summary / call for input
Project management is definitely not all roses. It is stressful, unpredictable, and… yes… sometimes a bit scary. Readers – what stories can you share about unexpected problems and how you approached future projects differently to avoid similar situations in the future? Sometimes our problems are greyed out or aren’t that visible to everyone… and then we get hit hard suddenly and unexpectedly. Has this happened to you?
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