The Inexact World of Project Management
By Brad Egeland
It would be nice to say the more organized and rigid you are in your processes and leadership, the better the project manager you will be. In fact, isn’t that what project management is all about? Defining a methodology and using it and creating and using repeatable processes and planning templates so that we can create best practices, run successful projects and then be able to repeat those practices and processes on future projects so that we can continually realize project success? That’s the goal, right? Well, yes, in theory.
If everything else was equal, yes. If our team dynamics never changed. If our customer was always the same and reacted the same and had the same expectations and always provided the same input or always just stayed out of the way. If the non-PM variables on each project were removed, then yes, that would probably be the goal and the easiest path to success. But we know that’s not the case.
Each customer is different – some are easy, some are hard, some are demanding, some don’t have a clue, some are ever present, some are no where to be found, and others are so far off the mark on what the project really is that the PM may spend much of their time just managing that customer and keeping them from bringing the project to a crashing halt. And each project team is different – made up of different personalities – not clones. And it’s the project manager’s responsibility to keep those very different individuals focused on what’s best for the project and focused on being productive and completing their assigned tasks.
I’ve personally worked with very structured, very rigid project managers and it’s amazing to see how quickly they get frustrated with those daily variables that they encountered on each project. The project is well planned out on paper, but something happens nearly every day that threatens to cause the PM to tweak the project schedule or the budget or the resource plan or something important in order to stay on track. None of those planned items can remain unchanged throughout the project. You start with a nice baseline for each, but on Day 2 you almost always find that something must be revised. Because of all this, the project manager quickly finds that he must…
The rigid project manager will find this one hard to swallow, but in reality the project manager must be flexible. Far too many things come up – many that are far outside of the control of the PM – that can alter the course of the project next month, next week, or possibly even today. The project manager must be smart, forward thinking, proactive and also swiftly reactive, and they absolutely must be flexible.
Be hands on with the team and customer
Managing the project isn’t about setting plans in motion and watching things happen. It is very much about resource management and customer management. In fact, the biggest challenges that an organized and very structured PM is going to face are likely going to be issues involving his team and the project customer. These are both very dynamics things that are potentially – though not directly – under his control. The professional project manager must be highly skilled as a communicator and manager of diverse resources who he must keep focused – along with everything else his resources have going in their professional workloads – on the goals and missions and task assignments of his project.
Constantly revisit and revise the forecasts
The weatherman doesn’t give you a weekly forecast and then expect it to be accurate on Friday. Rather, he is revising it every day for the next day and beyond. The same is true of the project manager who is managing a changing project schedule, a changing project budget and forecast, and a changing resource forecast. These things do not need to be managed and changed daily, but they do need at least weekly oversight, revision and redistribution to key stakeholders.
It would be great if we could create a schedule, budget, and resource plan and put the project on auto-pilot. Just check back every couple of weeks and make sure everything is still on track. Right. That will never happen – it can never happen. Projects, teams and customers require daily feeding and caring for and if left unattended the result WILL be catastrophic.