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Monday, September 7, 2015

Planners, Doers & Project Managers

     Two people are brainstorming one April day about how to make money over the upcoming summer.
     “Hey,” says one. “Why don’t we build and market a house? We can make a bundle. Sure, we don’t know anything about construction and selling houses – but we have lots of management expertise. We can hire people to do all the other stuff.”
     If they go ahead with this idea, what could go wrong? Plenty, of course.
     When I’ve asked project managers to come up with specific errors the two could make, they have little trouble building a hefty list in a very few minutes. They’ve certainly seen enough of it.
     There can be errors in judgment: Whom to consult for subject-matter expertise, whom to hire as contractors, where to build, the type and size of the residence. They could get in trouble with financing, and with managing the budget. They could run into environmental or materials problems. They could fail to monitor the process properly.
      Ask the same people to produce a list of things the pair could do right, and you get different views of mostly the same topics.
      Then comes the crunch: How do they categorize the items on the lists? Those practices, both errors and effective activities -- are they management? Or are they planning? Individual skills? Teamwork? Or are they in some other skill area?

      Of the countless times I have had  roomfuls of people conduct that discussion, only three or four groups have failed to put planning at the top of both lists.
      That means project managers almost always consider the good or bad quality of planning to be the Number One issue in project success
      Then comes the capper question: “So, how does this conclusion match up with your experience in real projects in the real workplace?”
      And the stark answer: “Not at all.”
      There you have it. When we stop to think about it, we salute planning as the top function in determining project success. When we don’t stop to think, we don’t plan much or well. That apparently is much (most?) of the time in actual project management.
      The world is not littered with the wreckage of projects, though, because many so-called projects actually are almost entirely reruns of work we have done before – perhaps many times before. The planning demand is minimal, as is the risk.
     When people say, “We don’t do a lot of planning because we don’t need to,” they may well be telling the truth. They also may be running a lot of process-dominated repetitions with little real innovation or risk. You can’t do that in managing a true project.

      With more demanding projects, managers who proceed too cautiously could be reacting to experience with “doers” who damaged projects by charging recklessly into complex and/or unfamiliar situations.
      Or they might just be addicted to analysis paralysis, and their overactive risk aversion demands unrealistic levels of assurance.
      Most of the project managers I know tend to favor the doer end of the spectrum, but the good ones are not seriously unbalanced about it. They do, though, find planning tiresome and not particularly worth a lot of time and attention.
      I believe that is because they have never seen a truly good planning system.
      The answer is to provide one. Clear the clutter from the planning process. Make each document action-oriented, doer-friendly.
     You cannot plan well without accurate data, so each project must have solid information from previous work. Where that is lacking, there must be good risk management.
      The plan also must be organized and tracked so it can make its own contribution to continuous improvement. Your formats minimize the tracking work.
      People who proceed that way are true project managers. It’s all planned right and done right.

     Project Planning? Fiction












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