Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Projects, project management and careers – 13: managing through change

Posted in career development, job search and career development, outsourcing and globalization by Timothy Platt on September 22, 2012

This is my thirteenth installment in a series on projects and project management as a career path (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 250-261 for Parts 1-12.) And my goal for this installment can, from at least one valid perspective, be considered a posting on what to do when a project faces unexpected complications.

Scope creep happens, and project requirements and goals can be changed. A significant goal in developing a project in its earliest stages is to settle upon an agreed-to list of goals, priorities and deadlines for completion with all pertinent stakeholders involved and agreeing to this. That does not mean everyone thinking that they are getting everything they would like out of this project, but it does mean their know what they will get and what they will not, and that they have agreed that this is acceptable. But even when that is accomplished, change can still enter in and even in a project’s fundamental goals and priorities – and for reasons that are legion.
• Outside pressures and non-project resource requirements and usage demands can intervene. This can mean delays and even outsight unavailability of raw materials or parts that would go into the project’s product and that would be needed for its successful completion.
• This can mean one or more key personnel on the project team suddenly not being there and available, and either short-term or for extended periods, or permanently.
• This can come from scheduling conflicts for access to key equipment, and in this, the resource bottlenecks that are anticipated in advance are less likely to cause delays and related problems than are the ones that no one would have anticipated (e.g. we have five large bed lathes and that should be enough but two are down for repairs after a voltage surge burned out their motors, and the other three are suddenly in peak demand by four other teams.)

I included four bullet points in this list but could have simply kept adding to it. As a general rule, for every potential chokepoint or challenge that a project could in principle face, there are usually at least two ways things could go wrong there – and every project of any complexity holds a multitude of such points.

Effective project planning means identifying and preparing for this and it means limiting both likelihood and scope of complications. Effective project management practices provide best practices guidelines for resolving problems and for developing workarounds where they are need. Good project management practices in and of themselves accomplish much of that and even as a matter of project-generic best practices. Experience and knowledge of the organization and of the people involved can help limit a lot more and help to keep the project moving along smoothly, or at least on schedule. But the unexpected and the unplanned for can always arise too and for complex projects these complications can be and should be expected.

• Think Plan B and certainly for critical stages and wherever foreseeable bottleneck and delays can be identified.
• Allow for scheduling cushions so you have allowance for crucial period delays built-in. If you do not need them at one point in the project, keep the due date for finishing the project as is, and as agreed to where possible, and bank this extra slack time in case it is needed later on in dealing with unexpected change requirements. You can always deliver project-completion early if you do not need the full span of time you have scheduled for, just like you can deliver under-budget. But wait on both until you are ready.
• And keep your stakeholders apprised of the project and for both successes and for any challenges faced. If you only tell them of the successes, they will feel blindsided if they find out about problems that you did not tell them of, by other means (e.g. by not getting the results of the project when expected.) If you only tell them of problems and delays they will question your competence, and that if nothing else can make further problems a self-fulfilling prophesy, and particularly when doubt is spread to key stakeholders. So be open on both the positives and negatives, and ask for help and certainly where you need it for issues such as shared resources access.

And if I add any other single point to this it is:

• Actively learn from everything, and especially from where things go wrong or where you have to take active measures to limit or prevent that. Lessons learned here can be crucial for future projects with this organization and those stakeholders, and these lessons are crucial to learning hands-on how to be a better project manager.

I am going to turn to the issues of project budgets in my next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development. I am also including this subseries on international and trans-national projects in Outsourcing and Globalization.

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