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Saturday
Jul072012

I am back

I am back. A year and a million dollars latter, I had just completed a very intensive project.  It took a considerable part of my life, which is why I had neglected my blog for a long time.  But I am back now and I have a lot of catching up to do.

As I reflect back on the project I have managed to gain some insights which I feel are worth sharing.

First of all due to reasons of client confidentiality I don’t like to give details, which is why this article will cover issues on a broader scale.

 

The importance of having proper guidance at the top or Inflexible flexibility.

With everyone’s participation a completion date was estimated, once that was the done the date was set in stone.  As further information had become available the team had tried to negotiate for more time, but the answer was always the same, stick to the deadline.  And when the message comes from a senior VP of a major financial institution, you listen.  As I look back on the project this unyielding expectation of meeting the delivery date had forced the team to work harder but it was crucial to making the project a success.  The message from the top was clear and consistent.

Here is the important part of this equation; while we could not move the date we had considerable leeway on the budget, and some on the scope. As long as the primary purpose of the task was achieved, we had room to deviate from scope, on some details, and we were allowed to put in as much over time as required.

The primary lesson of this is that as a Project Manager you must always identify the key constraint of the project from the sponsor’s / client’s point of view.  Projects have a life of their own, as we progress through a project and more information is available to us, we need to have the flexibility to make changes where necessary.  If you ever get the message that all three points (time, scope and budget) are fixed, then you must negotiate until at least one of these points can change as required.  Because if you don’t your project will fail.  However too much flexibility at the top can also lead to “analysis paralysis” with the technical team and project loses sight of what it’s trying to achieve.

 

People not procedures get things accomplished.

Another key factor to the success of the project were the individuals who worked on the project.  People  who decided that accomplishing goals was more important than simply putting in the minimum required hours. Cultivating the team, acknowledging the performers and making sure that your team knows they can count on you to be there for them is key.  Don’t expect complete harmony the more people you have to manage the more conflicts you will have to deal with.  But as long as you show that you are willing to treat everyone fairly and remind everyone what the true goal of the project is, good people will pull together and get the job done.

 

Don’t be afraid to speak up.

Finally as a Project Manager you must be able to bring issues that need to be escalated.  I know no one likes to be bearer of bad news, but it is a critical function of a PM.  How you bring up the message is just as important as the message.  If there is a crucial matter, make sure to speak up and get everyone’s attention.  Simply sending an email is not enough, you must confirm that they key people are aware of the issue you have brought to their attention, and that action will be taken. 

I am reminded of a study in the 90’s where South Korean airlines had the highest number of accidents of any Airline in the world.  The main reason for this was lack of communication with in cock pit.  I mean can you believe it, a small room where three people are constantly together and they couldn’t communicate to literally save their lives.  It turns out that if the co-pilot or navigator spotted a critical error on the captain’s part they would rather meekly suggest he alter course and take a chance on dying, then shout or do whatever is necessary to avoid a catastrophe.

So it is with a good Project Manager, when you spot a critical item think of that the plan going down to certain doom, and ask your self will you right the course or just let it go down in flames.

In my case I was lucky the people I had worked for encouraged such communication, and never made it a point of assigning blame.  They just wanted to know how we can get over the challenge and move forward.  This is what I believe all good managers should strive for.

 

Photo a brainstorming meeting.  Say what you will but sticky notes are one the PM's most valuable tools.

 

 

 

 

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