A friend of mine was recently introduced to the exhilarating world of project management. And when I say ‘introduced’, I mean it in the sense that a 10-ton truck with failing brakes would a busy intersection at lunch time. It was not pretty.
By her own admission and with 20/20 hindsight, attempting to squeeze what needed to be done in linear fashion and in the form of a to-do list, was probably not a stroke of genius. The fact that her list ignored what the rest of the team was doing and was silent on a ‘plan b’ in the case of equipment failure, also did her no credit. So, behind schedule on more than just the big project as day-to-day tasks moved to the backburner in an effort to avoid serious egg on the face, belated introspection was at the order of the day.
Her first mistake, she says, was to underestimate the size of the project. Yes, I know – duh! But actually, that can (and does) happen quite easily, especially if project management is not a regular part of one’s job. Amidst all the other daily deliverables it is easy to focus on the end product of a big project and think the preceding activities will just fall in place via common sense (the problem with common sense is that it is not that common…).
If she survives this and ever gets another opportunity to run a big project, she quips, she’ll first make sure she and her team fully understand the scope and goals of the project before just jumping in. She’ll also give proper attention to all the stakeholders in the process – especially to make sure they know they’re part of the process!
Bizarre as this may sound, she’ll actually plan her planning: Clearly defined deliverables, estimating time and cost, proper resource allocation and management, contingency plans, effective documentation, etc. My dear non-linear friend might actually brave a Gantt chart.
I did not ask her this – I would be unable to keep a straight face – but I think it is safe to assume that a hastily written to-do list would never again be put forward at the start of a project. Other lessons that have made an indelible impression on her bruised ego include the importance of regular performance and progress measurement. At the time when the wheels were coming off, she also very quickly learnt the value of effective communication during project implementation. Keeping clients updated and effectively managing requests for change probably helped to reign in potential damage and avert organisation-wide embarrassment.
In the close-out meeting (which I’m proud to say she actually insisted on instead of just opting to blend into the office background noise as many less-than-perfect project teams seem to do), her team identified a further need to incorporate more effective feedback mechanisms as well as ways to boost creativity and motivation to remain committed to the project’s mission.
Fortunately, she is teachable and, despite this nightmarish experience, committed to excellence. She has enrolled in a proper project management course instead of relying on her common sense, and has also motivated her team to do the same. I will be keeping a close eye on her progress.