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Anything is possible in project management

With a cool head and a little planning – anything is possible in project management.

‘Planning is bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now’

Alan Lakein

Do you have a reputation for delivering in an unusual working style and questioning how things are currently done ?

If your internal ‘wiring’ makes you somewhat outspoken in group situations but also willing to take risks to gain success, this may lead to you having a negative reputation with your colleagues. However, this personality type can also make you very driven in pursuing and completing goals and very good at organisation and leadership.

If, like me, this describes you, why not consider utilising these behaviours to everyone’s advantage ..?

Anything is possible in project management!

In my last article I suggested that being impulsive may not always be the best or correct way of responding to events around you. As long as you are prepared to take ownership and address things the go-ahead is given. Taking the step of mentioning how improvements can be made adds a fresh outlook – turning what could be negative situation into a positive one for both you and the organisation you work for.

For example:

Several years ago, while delivering a technology project for a client, it became clear to me that as well as the aspects of the solution that I was responsible for, what the client desperately needed was adequate training in some of the existing in-house manual processes.

Although training was not in my remit or something I felt confident about (back then I was inexperienced as a trainer), it seemed to me perfectly obvious that without the training element the solution we were delivering would not achieve what was desired.

Presenting these facts to my manager, I got not only agreement but also a request to put together and run the training!

If anything is possible in project management, what’s next? Where to begin …

Initial project plans are, by definition vague and viable ones are very difficult to come up with. If the process to deliver success was simple; your organisation would not be struggling against or putting up with the current situation … It would have been improved already.

It is also worth remembering that you are probably not the only ‘smart person’ in the workplace. If success in fixing the problem you have identified was simple and straightforward … your colleagues would have just delivered the outcome and moved on already.

Even if the initial idea you have in mind is vague with insufficient detail, you still need a plan – if it is to have any chance of success it needs to provide at least:

  • A definition of the current situation (The current situation – Where we are now).
  • A statement of desired outcome (The resulting situation – What we need to achieve).
  • Some high level steps detailing will be need to be done (What to do to make the transition).

Going back to my training example, these looked like the following :

The current situation:
The staff need training – without it the proposed solution will not work.

What we needed to achieve:
The staff being able to understand and work with the revised process.

What to do:

  1. I needed to understand the current process in much more detail – giving me both the knowledge and credibility to run the training successfully.
  2. I researched several alternatives to the way that I was proposing – that way, options could be given and what was adopted could be decided by the staff themselves.
  3. Have advocates: I ran the course materials past several of the team and listening to them, improved the training based on the resulting feedback.

Anything is possible in project management; which is why, armed with these three ‘planning’ ingredients – I came up with a structured approach with which to seek the support of and commitment from my project’s originator. The delivery for the project was then green-lighted, the training was given, technology delivered and the project deemed as a success by the stakeholders and end users alike.

Share the burden – gain support from others with clear responsibility, objectives and ‘ownership’

If you can win over enough stakeholders to the idea of you being the right person to champion and instigate the plan, it may also fall on you to implement it, as it did myself.

Remember that change can be very difficult and you may require more than just your skills to get the tasks required through to completion. Admitting that a change is too big for you to overcome by yourself and that a team is required, is often both a wise and sensible approach to take. It may be that you still end up leading the team, just with the right amount of resource.

Always include a contingency – stuff will not go as planned.

Always give yourself time to do the work you can see at the outset but also leave some time on the plan for ‘surprises’ – in my experience hurdles arise in just about every project. If your scheduled completion date does not build in some of this contingency time – completion will prove much more problematic … it is much easier to apologise for delivering ahead of schedule!

Measure it – if you can measure progress – improvements can be achieved.

Do not try and undertake a huge amount of work in a long timescale with only the end in sight; instead break up the project into a number of manageable tasks that will take at a maximum only a week or so to complete. Give each of the tasks an estimate completion time/effort, as well as any dependant tasks (which have to be completed first).

If you have your total timescale for the project and can fit your sub-tasks in the right order into this – then you know you stand a chance of success. My recommendation would always to go back to this initial estimate several times while you proceed with the work. By comparing your progress made and the anticipated progress at each point you will be able to keep others informed of your progress and flag any deviation in time or staffing earlier rather than later.

While you are working your way through your project – try and be ‘reflective’. Regularly think about what is going well and change your future tasks to include the positive outcomes. In the same way, be prepared to alter aspects of your plan which are proving beneficial.

Trust in an established process.

There may be a temptation, once you have the go-ahead for a piece of work – to dive in and progress it in your own way. If you do this you are not only going to be missing an advantage but also set yourself up for failure in a big way.

It is always worth spending time looking at ways that are typically used to plan projects of the type you are embarking on:

Lots of methodologies exist already and have proven very successful in delivering projects; Agile/Waterfall/Prince to name but a few. Methods like these are well documented and also proven to work.

By choosing a well known and understood methodology that is suited for the type of project that you are trying to complete, you are benefiting from the experience gained by all the people who have worked on and tuned the process over many years – you are learning from those mistakes not your own …

You may end up not doing all of the detail of the methodology you have settled upon but by doing your work in the spirit of it – you are going to improve your chances and gain accountable proof that what you are attempting has been successful when used elsewhere.

If you have the budget and the time – hire a professional.

Managing projects is a profession in itself and while commanding a high salary, this is for a very good reason. Do you really want to come up with a great improvement in how things are done – only to have your ideas fail due to you not being the right person with the right authority to see them through ?

To conclude: Anything is possible in project management. While you should be careful about when you raise concerns or propose change in the workplace; it is in the Maverick mindset to do so on occasion. By putting together a plan of how to achieve your goals and considering the adoption of a proven methodology – you are giving yourself a much greater chance of success.

Don Cooke
After over 30 years in business, Don strives to give the sort of encouragement and business support that will help you be stronger as an individual and also grow opportunities to maximise potential. Don lives with his family in Sussex.

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