Project Reality Check #1: The Challenge!

by Gary Monti on December 21, 2010

“Challenging” summarizes project management well. This series of blogs will go into the day-to-day realities of project management as well as the theory and bring to light ways to deal with the challenges.

As the series progresses validation for what you already see and do will occur. So, why write this material if that is the case? The answer is simple: Validation is powerful. Projects require connectivity, which requires being seen and accepted – Validation.  Additionally, there will be a few new things that will prove to be valuable.

There’s Just One Project

Listening to students and/or clients from every continent except Antarctica (would like to go there someday) there is a common theme in the answers to the question, “What makes your projects so challenging?” It breaks down to the following:

  • Lack of clear requirements;
  • Being pushed to start, regardless;
  • Arbitrary end date;
  • Arbitrary budget;
  • Dictated resource pool comprising too few resources of adequate skill;
  • Multitasking.

The response is amazingly consistent and is independent of profession, field of study, market, etc. It has led to telling clients and students, “There is just one project in life and we all get a turn on it.” Human nature is the same everywhere. All that differs is the wrapper (culture). Don’t get me wrong, that wrapper can be quite significant. My point is once the effort is made to get beneath it you’ll always find the same thing, A human being.

The Path

This all can sound pretty bleak and make one wonder, “How does a project manager get the job done?” The answer is simple, “Stick to the principles.” As has been stated in previous blogs, simple is not the same as easy.  That simple path is grounded in the 9 areas of project management. By sticking to those principles and flexing them as called for in a given situation the odds of finding a path to success go up accordingly.

The Areas of Project Management

According to PMI® there are 9 areas of project management:

  • Scope
  • Time
  • Budget
  • Communications
  • Human Resources
  • Procurement
  • Quality
  • Risk
  • Integration

We will explore these 9 areas and see how they relate when working to find that path to success when thrown into a challenging situation.

A Key to Success

The word “challenging” opened this blog. To some extent, it is politically correct. “Nightmarish” might be a better word, when you get down to it. How to enjoy situations, stay sane and avoid project nightmares has been a quest ever since entering project management. The secret, which will be explored in this series, is completing a simple sentence.

If everything were okay I would see ________________.

It took most of the last 32 years spent in project management to get to that inquiry (proof that simple is different than easy).

A few things stand out with that statement:

  • It is an inquiry rather than a command. Why is that important? Leaders do better when asking more questions and giving fewer commands;
  • It is recursive. That one inquiry can be asked over-and-over as the breadth and depth of a project are explored.
  • It applies to both politics and technology. The stakeholder map should map isomorphically (clearly) and correctly into the technological map of the project.
  • Variance analysis is promoted. Using that statement promotes gap analysis, which is at the core of project management.

Variance brings us to the goal of project management, i.e., making sure we know what to plan, plan it, and execute within the time, money and resource constraints that fit with the project. In other words, get the job done. It gets down to two simple equations:

Cost Variance = Earned Value – Actual Cost

Schedule Variance = Earned Value – Planned Value

This series will explore what it takes to put teeth into those two equations. Fasten your seat belt!

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