I’ve been spending a lot of time lately on large project-management conference calls where I’m the communication cog in a much bigger objective. These calls run for a full hour, at which point you start hearing the bridgeline beeps as people jump off to log on to another project call. The same people seems to be on each call — it’s not unlike one of those gerbil wheels that were really popular back in the 70s. More often than not, I’m left feeling like I’ve just lost an hour of my life I’ll never get back and that I’m not quite sure what I need to do next.
I was moaning about this to a “project sponsor” and he asked me what I’d do differently — given that I spent a lot of my career on the other side of the table? Before I could answer, he made it clear what he did in a previous life (i.e., consulting) by starting to ramble on about Gantt Charts, Risk Impact/Probability Tables, Influence Maps, or Critical Path Analysis. As my eyes glazed over, I explained that my approach to project management has always been far simpler: Who Does What By When.
Let me give credit where credit is due here. I had long had difficulty explaining my approach until listened to the Manager Tools podcast and heard the hosts describe (Mark) Hortsman’s Law of Project Management. It described my strategy perfectly, in simple terms that a Bulldog like me could embrace.
I had managed dozens of projects over the year and never really knew how to explain how I succeeded in driving them to successful completion more often than not. When everyone focuses on the simple principle of Who Does What By When, reporting is easier and each person understands his or her role. Layer on the constant reminder that People Are the Engine of Project Success and you’re pretty much there. My job as a project manager is to see the threats to project completion when things are going well and make the appropriate adjustments, and to eliminate any barriers to the job getting done the rest of the time.
I run into a lot of good project managers who recognize team members and try to quickly distribute meeting notes. And that’s great. But the huge decks with 8- or 10-point type undermine their best efforts. I think you can be very successful if you make sure everyone does their job and leaves enough time for the next person to do theirs. Recognize people throughout, especially when they make it easier for someone else to succeed.
What strategies do you use to manage projects to completion, in time and on budget? Have I oversimplified the process?