Managing a project requires actions

by Guy Ralfe on August 4, 2010

I recently had to jump in and manage a project in deep distress. The project was 5.5 weeks into an 8 week schedule and the project was only barely 20% complete. This was a construction project so easier to measure completion than say IT projects.

When I jumped into the project we were about to be removed from the project, I begged for 48 hrs to produce a recovery plan but settled on a compromise of 24 hrs – this was my first commercial construction project so not much time!  In discussing the situation with the general contractor, they kept on telling us how far behind schedule we were against the original (baseline) project plan. This was the original project plan laid out before the project began.

The conversation was just hopeless to the situation – telling me how late each section is; does not give any direction with which to act to remediate the situation. When I asked what were the priorities and what dependencies existed I received the response “they are all critical!”

When the plan was originally built it was obviously constructed based on a number of constraints and priorities known at the time. Today those priorities were in a very different arrangement due to the impact of not having various sections complete that have an impact on others also working on the project.

What I set about doing was to produce a plan, a recovery plan, that defined the work that needed to be completed and by when based on current priorities so that it still remained a comprehensive plan. This plan set out the new objectives and the “new reality” we needed to produce for a satisfactory outcome – with this defined it was shared with the team who now knew what was required. Looking at the project this way provided tangible targets to manage the resources and production against. The obvious problem was – being told you are late yesterday and again today does not provide you any point of reference with which to act.

Another successful tactic we used was not to focus on the small details but rather identify the three or four key fronts we needed to make progress on and constantly reevaluated the plan every day to determine if we had made enough progress… and also, did we need more people and could we shift the load around between teams?

This was a recovery plan but in essence it is no different than it should be for any project correctly managed. Projects are living and evolving ecosystems – a plan helps us anticipate the future and organize a number of people/organizations for the execution of the project. What we need to remember is that when the situation no longer reflects the plan the plan needs to be adjusted and some actions need to take place as a result or the outcome cannot be the same. To manage projects you need to manage the project and not just read the plan!

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