A good project plan
When managing a project, it is important to spend sufficient time designing a good project plan. Proper planning is one of the most important concepts in project management.
The project management plan is a central document that defines the basis of the work required to complete the project. It will integrate all the subsidiary plans:
- Scope and requirements
- Human Resources
- Risk (all uncertainties: threats and opportunities)
The plan should document the deliverables and work required, and bring a consensus on them. It is much harder to have this discussion later, or at the very end of a project. The plan will support an effective and efficient project execution phase. It will also help monitoring and controlling the project. After all, without a plan, how can you assess the progress of the project?
If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there / Lewis Carroll
Beyond the project plan
Despite all attempts to plan, reality is also complex. Many projects exist in a very dynamic and changing environment. Things will happen. Issues will arise; problems will occur. And it will be our role as project manager to step up and manage them. A project manager is not only supervising tasks. He must manage, and even better, provide strategic leadership to his projects.
When managing a team, it is often the issues and problems that will occupy most the time of the project manager. After all, the team will be able to perform on their own the tasks that do not face any challenges. For those tasks, they don’t need to escalate to the manager. They don’t need more guidance or a decision, to move forward. The project team can do them as delegated.
The project manager will have to manage problems. It is unavoidable.
Essential competency for project managers
How do you handle problems? First, there is the personal dimension. Having the ability to deal with problems is an important competency for a project manager. It requires a mix of:
- being focused on actions and solutions
- and some positive thinking
Team members are counting on you to help resolving the issues. This can be done through directions, guidance, or just a discussion. At times, it may require a strong decision, or having as project manager an authentic conversation with some stakeholders. The sponsor is also expecting that the project manager can and will manage.
To solve a problem, it is important to obtain appropriate information to support a decision. It is important to understand the problem. Listening to specialists, users, stakeholders and subject-matter experts is often very important. Otherwise, there is a significant risk of making a decision that is disconnected from reality, not realistic. It is even possible that this uninformed decision will create even more problems. The larger the project team, the more risk of blind spots the project manager will have.
Obtaining information does not mean trying to obtain all the possible information available. This would just lead to analysis paralysis.
Analysis paralysis: the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. A decision can be treated as over-complicated, with too many detailed options, so that a choice is never made, rather than try something and change if a major problem arises. A person might be seeking the optimal or “perfect” solution upfront, and fear making any decision which could lead to erroneous results, when on the way to a better solution. / Wikipedia
Especially in a dynamic world, being able to make timely decisions is essential to succeed. As such, the level of information required is the minimum required to achieve a good decision.
Assessing the problem
In assessing the problem, it is important to find the root cause. Too often, I see people bringing their own biases to a project. It is especially true for consultants specialized in one area. If someone is specialized in planning, every problem relates to defining and managing the scope and the requirements. If someone is specialized in team management, then the solution must be managing better the team. Or maybe it is a communication problem.
The key here is to be neutral and not have a prejudge the cause of the problem. You may love planning, but the problem may be related to stakeholder management. You may love human resources and team management, but the problem may be related to procurement. Or is the problem related to inappropriate change management process? Or is the governance process not supporting well the process.
Once the real cause of the problem has been identified, it is much easier to find a solution. A solution based on a proper assessment will often be very effective and at a minimum cost. A solution based on biases or preconceived opinion will often bring more work and more confusion.
With the right information, and assessment of the problem, it is also important to make a timely. The project manager has been selected and has the authority to manage the project. He is not just a tasks supervisor. He is there to manage and make decisions.
Of course, the project manager must have the judgment to assess what authority is required for a decision. He may have the authority to decide, may have to decide and also inform the sponsor and/or governance bodies, or may have to raise the issue for decision by the appropriate persons or committee. In all cases, he is ensuring that a timely decision is made.
Analysis will not solve a problem. A timely decision will be required.
So, when you are faced with a problem, take time to properly assess the problem:
– obtain sufficient information
– identify the root cause and the real problem
– obtain timely decisions
And don’t forget to implement the solutions. Analysis and decisions will not solve problems if they are not followed by actions.
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